The start-up breaking the codes of Swiss watchmaking

With its haute horlogerie project called X41, Lausanne-based start-up Code41 raised CHF2 million in 72 hours this spring via a crowdfunding platform. Code41

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 company Code41, from Lausanne, which conquered a community of enthusiasts by demonstrating total transparency about the costs and origin of the components of its products.

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

Samuel Jaberg, Lausanne

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

“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 newspaper 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 generally have of the founder of loquacious and extroverted start-ups.

“When we started the adventure in 2016, we expected people to follow us on our project. Today, we see real enthusiasm around Code41 and that obviously makes us happy”, celebrates without boasting Claudio D’Amore, who welcomes us in his new office with an elegant design just a few steps from Lausanne train station.

Transparency and dialogue

One event in itself illustrates the enthusiasm spoken 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 pass the CHF8 million mark in turnover in 2019. A small feat in an industry as saturated as traditional mechanical watchmaking, which must also weather the wave of watches connected.

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

The “Made in Switzerland” 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 manufacture a watch.

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

To be stamped as “Swiss Made”, a watch must contain at least 60% Swiss value.external link🇧🇷 However, often only the movement, the heart of the mechanical watch, is manufactured in Switzerland, with most of the components (strap, case, hands, dial, etc.) purchased from Asian subcontractors.

no taboo

Claudio D’Amore, on the other hand, designs his watches with a single objective: to offer his community of enthusiasts watches with the best “quality-price-magic” possible, revealing the exact origin and cost of each one. necessary element for the manufacture of your 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 watch series developed by Code41, called Anomaly-01, is equipped with a Japanese automatic mechanical movement, a heresy in the eyes of ardent supporters of “Swiss Made”.

A Haute Horlogerie piece, the X41 operates thanks to a movement developed in-house and machined in Geneva, which would easily allow it to obtain the coveted label. A step that Cláudio D’Amore stubbornly refuses to take, preferring 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 end customer’s bill. The X41 retails 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.

So it comes as no surprise that the designer-entrepreneur was quickly described as a “troublemaker” or even a “terrible son” of Swiss watchmaking. A cleverly orchestrated provocation: the name Code41 is an indirect reference to “Swiss Made”, 41 representing the Swiss telephone code, but also a reference to the announcement of an error in the computer system.

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

To get its message across, the start-up does not hesitate to practice aggressive marketing on social networks. “It’s not enough to have a good idea and a good product, you also need to know how to talk about it”, 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 business risks and raise funds without having to resort to banks or external investors. If a project doesn’t work, it’s simply abandoned. A scenario that has yet to emerge, however.

The women’s community in the spotlight

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 it to avoid expensive – and sometimes useless – market studies. “It is often much more rewarding and allows me to dispel the many doubts that assail me when designing a new watch”, emphasizes Claudio D’Amore.

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

Online consultations brought some 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 usually used in women’s watches. Without that direct contact, we could simply add mother-of-pearl, rose and butterflies to our existing collections, as many watch designers do”, says Claudio D’Amore.

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

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