CODE41: The subversive watch brand that dared to tell the truth and its latest crazy idea…Luke Benedictus
Interviewing the CEOs of watch brands can prove to be a tiring business. You have to circumnavigate all that smiling evasion, the confected optimism and promises for exciting releases “coming soon but which we can’t talk about yet”. Claudio D’Amore, the CEO of CODE 41, is very different. While most of the watch industry relies heavily on marketing hype, D’Amore prefers radical candour. “In 2016 when we started the business I said, ‘Okay, let’s be transparent. I will explain why we make all of our choices and maybe people will understand and will like it’.”
They certainly will. D’Amore’s plucky hunch paid off. In 2016, CODE41 was just a two-man team, but those numbers have quickly grown to 25 people, while the brand’s community has swollen to more than 500,000. Much of this momentum, one suspects, comes down to the CODE41’s extraordinary willingness to bare all.
Example? Well, when the Swiss brand make a watch they happily share a breakdown of the cost of each component and its place of origin, right down to the deployment clasp and the caseback. These figures are then set against the total sum they plan to sell the watch for. “We have a mark-up of 2.3 or 2.5 sometimes,” D’Amore says about his pricing structure. “It’s still a markup, but we can explain it.”
Suffice to say, this is an extremely modest hike. Information on how much watch brands inflate their prices is shrouded in secrecy, although the New York Times once reported that Rolex has a 40 per cent retail markup. CODE41 keeps its prices so low by selling its products direct online. “It means we don’t have to worry about the distribution markup and the retailer markup,” D’Amore explains
In another display of openness, CODE41 happily involves its audience in the creative process. When it came to the case design of the X41, for example, the brand offered images of three different options with clean, hollow or facted lugs, providing buttons for consumers to register their preference. It’s testament to D’Amore’s insistence that CODE41 is less of a brand and “more of a community project”.
It’s tempting to see this policy for complete transparency as taking expression in CODE41’s skeletonised cases that literally reveal the movements within. In fact, this design choice is driven more by D’Amore’s watchmaking passion that inspired him to create the brand’s first in-house movement with the X41.
“For me as a guy that loves watches, I really wanted to dive into the motor of the watch and not only shape the outside,” he explains. “I think watchmaking is really about the movement. Why skeleton watches are interesting for me is to be able to see all these components moving. It’s really like a moving sculpture. I don’t understand exactly why you would hide it.”
This palpable enthusiasm informs CODE 41’s latest project, Mecascape (the name stands for “mechanical landscape”). The result is startlingly original and also a little bit hard to describe. About the same size and shape as a smartphone, it’s a quirky combination of a desktop clock, a pocket watch and a futuristic objet d’art. But the logic behind this change of format was to give the skeletonized movement a bigger canvas on which to shine.
“Instead of having a movement where all the components are on top of each other, here we wanted to have the same components spread out over a plain surface,” D’Amore says. “As I mentioned before, we love to see the mechanics that go into a watch. The Mecascape puts it all on a wide screen so you can really dive into the watchmaking.”
If you’re interested in learning more then click here as, in characteristic fashion, CODE41 are already asking for feedback on their nascent design (should it be anthracite or steel?). At the end of January, CODE41 will review all the suggestions and fine-tune the Mecascape. In April, the protoypes will have been completed and pre-orders will begin in June.
As disarmingly frank as always, D’Amore is keen to get my views as to how much I think CODE41 should charge for the Mecascape – he suspects it’ll probably sit somewhere around $6000-$8000 CHF.
I leave our Zoom call feeling elated and slightly bewildered by so much straight-talking. Could honesty, I wonder, actually be the best policy after all?
Check out the brand’s latest watch, the CODE41 NB24 Edition 2 Chronograph