The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH) requires only 60 percent of the manufacturing costs of an entire watch to occur in Switzerland for it to carry the “Swiss Made” label. This allows watch companies to turn to Asia disproportionately in the production process. In an ideal world, there should be no blowback around brands admitting production of some components happens overseas. However, given that Swiss Made watches command a premium (in terms of pricing) over those made in other countries, it does seem unfair that only a little more than half of the components in your Swiss Made watch have anything do with Switzerland.
The topic has generated much debate in the industry, and brands like H. Moser & Cie. and Ultramarine have reacted to the issue in their own inimitable ways. Enter Claudio D’ Amore, a Swiss-Italian designer who has worked with brands like Montblanc, TAG Heuer, and Parmigiani Fleurier. In 2016, he founded CODE41 with the aim of offering total transparency on the development, costs and origin of the timepieces the company would make.
The Lausanne-based start-up’s first crowdfunding campaign, built on the promise of delivering high quality watches at fair prices and transparency on origin of parts, raised CHF543,150 at the end of 2016. The first CODE41 model, the Anomaly-01, was a Miyota-powered watch with a machined dial that seems to be part of the mechanism itself. The brand sold directly from their website, cutting out the intermediaries of traditional distribution model and halving the retail price (the Anomaly-01 range ranged from $734.48 in steel to $1,525.40 in carbon fiber).
More importantly, CODE41 also pioneered a new labeling system for their watches. They introduced the concept of TTO (Total Transparency of Origin) as an alternative to the Swiss Made tag. According to the TTO manifesto, the brand would choose “Swiss and international parts based on their distinctiveness and high value for money; not in order to meet the criteria of a deceptive Swiss Made label.” So the watches, according to CODE41, “would be manufactured in the very Chinese workshops, which have been producing many of the components for Swiss brands for decades.”
What really sets apart CODE41 from other micro-brands is their ability to involve the community. Designs and ideas are presented to the stakeholders and members get a say in the final look and feel of the product. Votes decide the final design and choice of movement; it is a way of working that is very different to what happens in the mainstream.
CODE41 used the Swiss workhorse movement ETA-2824-2 to power their second offering, the more conservatively designed Anomaly-02. The Anomaly-02 range starts $858.81 upwards. The company upped the ante for its third project, X41, by introducing a new haute horology movement made specifically (with inputs from the community) for the brand. Developed by specialists Timeless Manufacture, this new movement features a peripheral rotor (a technical feat mastered only by major brands like Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet) that allows for uninterrupted views of the movement. Designed and manufactured in Switzerland, the watch qualifies for the Swiss Made tag (90 percent of the work was done in the country), but CODE41 prefers to go with its TTO tag.
The X41 has a distinct open-worked dial with its big date and peripheral rotor and is available in titanium or high-tech AeroCarbon (a carbon fiber-variant favored by the aerospace industry) with prices starting from $5,500. According to CODE41, 1,650 pieces of the four versions of the X41 have sold since launch. Day 41, their fourth project is offered in two case sizes – 37 mm and 40 mm – to appeal to a broader audience and features an avant-garde open-worked dial. An automatic movement made by STP, a Swiss firm owned by the Fossil group, powers this watch.
CODE41 is now working on their most ambitious project yet – a timepiece with a manufacture cam-driven chronograph movement. The chronograph’s moniker, NB24, is a hat-tip to their brand ambassador, paraplegic racing driver Nigel Bailly. The Belgian will fulfil his dream of participating at the 24 Hours Le Mans next year when he turns up at the legendary race as part of all-paraplegic driver team. Specialists Concepto are developing the movement and the watch is currently in the prototype stage and is expected to launch with pre-orders in January next year.