They say Leica lost money on every one it made, so they just quit making it!
Back in the late ‘90s Leica thought they had a brilliant idea, namely unveiling a short-range (2:1) moderately-wide-to-longish constant-f/2.8-aperture zoom lens for R-mount SLRs that delivered exceptional imaging performance on a par with Leica prime lenses. The gorgeously made 11-element, 9-group beauty they came up with incorporated aspheric surfaces (hence the ASPH designation), and performed flawlessly, but it weighed in at a hefty 2.31 pounds, measured 5.24 inches long and 3.4 inches wide, and sold for a little over $7,000.
What happened then is succinctly summed up by Peter M.C. Werner’s post on the Leica Talk forum back in 2009, “Leica made a production run of 200 (of these) lenses in 1999 or so, each at a loss in spite of the esoteric selling price of $7,000 plus—and then production ceased. Leica users had panic attacks, fits, and disorders of the nervous system trying to get one. Used ones today still command the same price and you can hardly find one.” That last observation no longer quite correct because things have changed over the last decade. The elusive 35-70mm f/2.8 Vario-Elmarit-R ASPH is currently listed on a number of dealer and auction sites, but you’ll have to shell out $11-15k or so to snag a pristine example!
According to Leica Wiki the total assigned serial numbers for this lens come to 1,775, a handful going back to 1994 and 1995, and the majority dating from 1998 (1000) and 2000 (700). However the official post duly notes that Leica expert Thorsten Overgaard, the esteemed Weslicht auction house, and others in the know put the number at 155-300, that latter figure being pretty close to the mark in my opinion. What do you get for too much money? Exclusivity, of course, but also images that exhibit superb detail and contrast, and lovely natural bokeh (especially for an aspheric zoom) that’s enhanced by an 8-bladed diaphragm. Icing on a very costly cake: focusing down to 2.3 feet for a near macro maximum magnification ratio of 1:2.8, close enough for capturing captivating portraits at the 70mm setting.