Are Code 41 watches any good? The brand invests a lot into social media advertising, and proclaims its X41 watch as “Swiss watchmaking 2.0”. But is the X41 really Swiss, and is it worth its €5,500 price tag?
Are Code 41 watches any good? In its adverts on social media, Code 41 presents itself as “Swiss watchmaking 2.0”, “the democratizing of fine watchmaking” and “total transparency of origin”. The Code 41 website focuses on Swissness, on the percentages of Swiss-made and foreign components, and on how up until now Swiss watch companies have purportedly not been entirely honest about what is made in Switzerland and what is manufactured elsewhere. The name of the company, Code 41, reinforces the concept of Swissness because 41 is the Switzerland dialling code. But what are Code 41 watches really like?
Code 41 X41, skeleton watch with big date display
Let’s take a look at one of the latest offerings by Code 41, the X41. Code 41 say that it’s their democratic version of high-end Swiss watchmaking. It’s an interesting concept, a skeletonized watch with futuristic angled bridges on the front, an angled X-shaped bridge on the back, a big date display, and a peripheral rotor that can seen through the display caseback. It costs around €5,500.
The big date display is handled very nicely, with two transparent discs that create the date, highlighted by a flat surface underneath. The peripheral rotor is a rare feature, generally available only on high-end watches such as Carl F. Bucherer, Breguet, Cartier, Piaget and (at a lower price level) Perrelet. The negatives in terms of design are certain details such as the curious lugs that have inner spacers that give the impression of wishing to use a certain bracelet width size and having to adjust the lug width accordingly. And the finish of the components looks to be purely industrial. But my real suspicions on the design of the Code 41 X41 are its supposed Swissness.
X41, total transparency?
On the Code 41 website, the description for the X41 includes the headline “Movement designed, manufactured and assembled entirely in Switzerland”. Much further down, we read that the case is made in China, and likewise the packaging. Strap and clasp are made in Italy and China. So the Swiss components – which apparently justify Code 41 calling it a Swiss watch – are the movement and assembly. They also say that the movement is entirely Swiss-made except for the balance wheel.
This is where my doubts begin. Everything in the movement is made in Switzerland except the balance wheel? If all the other wheels, and the balance spring, are made in Switzerland, where does the balance wheel come from? Code 41 provides a video showing how the movement is made. First we see a CNC machine cutting the X-shaped bridge. That’s it as regards manufacture of the components. The rest of the video shows a watchmaker assembling the movement. The wheels, discs, screws and bearings could come from anywhere, Switzerland, Asia, who knows.
Where is the X41 movement made?
Where does the X41’s movement come from? A video on the Code 41 website says that the calibre was designed by a company called Timeless Manufacture. Describing this company’s work, a certain Lionel (whose responsibility at Timeless Manufacture is quality control) says that “until now, we’ve really only worked with high-end watchmakers” and “we’ve been in this niche for more than twenty years now”, “there’s around forty people involved in the production side, which is based in Geneva, and the development, finishing and assembly is all done in Jura, with about ten watchmakers”, “we make all of the components, except for the balance wheels”. Their website https://www.timeless-sa.ch/ consists of a single page with a short text in French saying that they have been making Swiss-made mechanical movements for over 10 years. A link leads to their instagram page, where the brief text proclaims “Manufacture de Mouvements Mécaniques, CH100% Swiss Made”, and the first post was put up on 30 April 2019.
So, what Code 41 are suggesting is that the X41 watch has a movement in which all of the components are made in a factory based in Geneva with 40 people working there, and then assembled in Courfaivre in the Jura region. Personally I think that just about all the movement components are made in Asia and possibly assembled in Switzerland.
Hints of Asian precursors
You may think I just have an over-suspicious mind, but there are a couple of things that make me wonder. Designing a new watch movement is an incredibly hard and expensive task. What I find strange is that X41 say virtually nothing about the movement. There are no descriptions of the details, those two transparent date discs, there is none of that enthusiasm that I would expect from a small brand that has just launched its first in-house-designed movement.
Then there’s the fact that X41 has used Asian movements in its other watches. The Anomaly-02 watch (no longer in production, it cost just over €1,000) is powered by the STP 1-11 movement, based on the ETA 2824-2, by the company STP, Swiss Technology Production, which is actually part of Fossil Group. The movement of the Day41 is the STP 615. The American group Fossil purchased STP specifically to be able to add “Swiss Made” to its higher level products. Though STP movements are made in Switzerland, a lot of their components are themselves Chinese-made – I have seen reports saying that STP movements are Seagull ebauches. More specifically, the STP 1-11 is very similar to the Seagull TY2130. The Code 41 Anomaly 01 is powered by a Miyota (Japanese) movement and it was assembled in China.
Sponsored blog posts as a form of advertising
It’s very difficult to find bona fide reviews of these watches. Code 41 has been very active on social media and amongst bloggers, sending them watches to review, and running sponsored posts – in other words, paid posts, a form of semi-concealed advertising – on sites such as ABlogtoWatch. So it’s easy to read a super-enthusiastic review of the watch and the brand, only to discover, right at the end, that the review was not an independent opinion at all.
What’s more, the Code 41 website then presents a quote from that “review” on ABlogtoWatch with a sentence from that “Sponsored post”. So, to recap, Code 41 pays ABlogtoWatch to publish an article, and then publish a quote from that article on their website, labelling it “ABlogtoWatch”. Personally I don’t think that that is entirely ethical. And it is in complete contrast with Code 41’s principal claim, that of transparency.
Real Swiss watchmaking is something else
So in my opinion, Code 41 is not the quintessence of Swiss haute horlogerie, their communications are misleading, and the X41 is way overpriced. €5,500 can bring you some amazing products in which every component is made in Switzerland and finished with that meticulous care that hallmarks fine Swiss watchmaking. €5,500 could bring you the latest Rolex Oyster Perpetual. Or the Omega Constellation. Or the Breitling Navitimer Chronograph 41. If you like skeletonized watches, about €3,500 would give you the Claude Meylan Tortue. These are just the first examples that I could think of. There are undoubtedly thousands of other genuinely Swiss watches in that price bracket.
In conclusion, Code 41 has increased my respect for real Swiss and German brands, for all the other brands in many countries that use Chinese and Japanese components and have no problem about saying so, and for Chinese brands that are themselves attaining appreciable levels of quality and design.