The start-up breaking Swiss watchmaking codes

With its fine watchmaking project called X41, Lausanne start-up Code41 raised 2 million francs in 72 hours this spring through a crowdfunding platform. Code 41

Almost every week, a new watch brand appears on crowdfunding platforms. Most of these experiments end in failure. But there are also some examples of resounding success: this is the case of the Lausanne-based company Code41, which won over a community of enthusiasts by demonstrating complete transparency about the costs and origin of the components of its products.

This content was posted on December 18, 2019 – 08:40

Samuel Jaberg, Lausanne

On the cover of the December issue of the PME Magazineexternal link, Claudio D’Amore poses alongside Jean-Claude Biver, former head of the LVMH watch division and an iconic figure in Swiss watchmaking. “1989-2019: the clash of generations”, is the headline in the Swiss economic monthly.

“It’s not enough to have a good idea and a good product, you still need to know how to talk about it”

Claudio D’Amore, founder of Code41

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When presented with the magazine and the huge pile of articles dedicated to Code41external link in the French-speaking press, Claudio D’Amore gives a slight, tense smile. We detected the expression of a surprising shyness that contrasts with the idea we usually have of the founder of volatile and extroverted start-ups.

“When we started the adventure in 2016, we expected people to follow us on our project. Today, we see real excitement around Code41 and that obviously makes us happy”, rejoices without boasting Claudio D’Amore, who welcomes us to his new, elegantly designed offices just steps from the Lausanne train station.

Transparency and dialogue

One event in itself illustrates the enthusiasm spoken of by the director of Code41: in April, for the launch of its first “in house” movement, the X41, the start-up collected 1.7 million francs in pre-orders in 36 hours. (2.8 million in the 30 days of the campaign).

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Over the past three years, Code41 has doubled its revenue each financial year to break the SFr8 million turnover barrier in 2019. A small feat in an industry as saturated as traditional mechanical watchmaking that must also face the wave of connected watches. .

The success of Code41 revolves around two simple ideas, which fit perfectly with the times, but which are still far from becoming evident in the watch industry, known for its conservatism and its taste for discretion. : full transparency about the origin and costs of the components of its products and permanent dialogue with the brand’s customers, the famous community, involved in every stage of the watch’s development.

The “Swiss Made” Deception

A former independent designer – he designed watches for TAG Heuer, Parmigiani or Oris in particular – Claudio D’Amore explains that he was often frustrated when trying to understand the origin of the hundreds of components needed to make a watch.

“Trademarks often exhibit complete opacity. They take refuge behind the ‘Swiss Made’ which in reality is a real deception for the consumer”, denounces the forty.

To receive the “Swiss Made” stamp, a watch must contain at least 60% Swiss valueexternal link. However, often only the movement, the heart of the mechanical watch, is manufactured in Switzerland, with most components (strap, case, hands, dial, etc.) being sourced from Asian subcontractors.

no taboo

Claudio D’Amore, on the other hand, designs his watches with a single objective: to offer his community of watch enthusiasts the best possible “quality-price-magic” ratio, revealing the origin and exact cost of each element necessary for the manufacture their watches with meticulous mechanics and appearance.

This former student of the Lausanne School of Art (ECAL) does not hesitate to break certain taboos. The first series of watches developed by Code41, called Anomaly-01, is thus equipped with a Japanese automatic mechanical movement, heresy in the eyes of ardent supporters of the “Swiss Made”.

A Haute Horlogerie piece, the X41 operates thanks to a movement developed in-house and machined in Geneva, which would make it easy to obtain the coveted label. A step that Claudio D’Amore stubbornly refuses to take, that he preferred to stamp the apparent skeleton with a sober “Swiss machine”.

The enfant terrible of watchmaking

Transparency, combined with direct sales over the internet, has another virtue: that of substantially reducing the final customer’s bill. The X41 sells for 5,500 francs, or “three to four times cheaper” than a Swiss mechanical watch of comparable quality sold by a major local brand, says Claudio D’Amore.

It is therefore not surprising that the designer-entrepreneur was quickly described as a “troublemaker” or even a “terrible child” of Swiss watchmaking. A deftly orchestrated tease: the name Code41 is both an indirect nod to “Swiss Made,” 41 representing Switzerland’s telephone code, but also a reference to the announcement of a computer system error.

Claudio D’Amore at his offices in Lausanne, where he employs around fifteen people.

To get the message across, the start-up does not hesitate to practice aggressive marketing on social networks. “It is not enough to have a good idea and a good product, it is also necessary to know how to speak”, says Claudio D’Amore. The latter, however, guarantees that it does not invest more than 100 francs in advertising per watch sold.

By using crowdfunding, Claudio D’Amore can reduce the risks of the business and raise money without having to turn to banks or outside investors. If a project doesn’t work, it is simply abandoned. A scenario that has yet to emerge, however.

Featured women’s community

At each stage, the community, which has more than 200,000 members, is consulted. She is therefore part of the adventure. For its part, Code41 has direct feedback that allows you to avoid costly – and sometimes useless – market research. “Often it is much more gratifying and allows me to dispel the many doubts that assail me when I create a new watch”, underlines Claudio D’Amore.

For its next project, the Vaud-based start-up has decided to target women specifically: only they have the right to choose the smallest details of the Day41 collection, whose pre-sale starts in January.

Online consultations brought surprises in relation to the codes that traditionally govern women’s watchmaking. “Our community favored a very technical collection, preferring an apparently mechanical movement to the quartz commonly used in women’s watches. Without this direct contact, we could have simply added mother-of-pearl, rose and butterflies to our existing collections, as many watch designers do,” suggests Claudio D’Amore.

You can contact the author of this article on Twitter: @samueljabergexternal link

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