I was very happy to see a digital-native brand like Code41 hit the scene a few years ago. Since the company’s debut, which mixed in-person and digital advertising with a web-purchased luxury watch, the innovative luxury watch brand has been able to beat the odds by both maintaining momentum as a brand and releasing multiple new watches since its original launch. The pictured Code41 X41 watch is one of its products, and it is currently in the process of getting a sixth production run. This review is of the fifth generation version of the watch, and in each generation, the brand makes some updates and new options available for that production run batch.
The X41 is an entirely original timepiece with a movement made especially for the brand and poise that is decidedly high-end with a price of over $6,000 USD. This fifth-generation X41 actually has six different versions (with different case finishing and movement colors), so the prices vary a bit with each version. What is actually just as interesting to me as that design is the nature of the brand itself and its messaging. You see Code41 was started by a group of people who are both wristwatch lovers and savvy modern digital marketers. This is important to mention because over the last five or so years, some of the major winners in digital-native watch brands have been those organizations that aren’t just smart when it comes to watch design, but also hip on techniques and strategies to create excitement (and sales) online (versus in person).
Code41 began as a rare high-end wristwatch offering on Kickstarter, if I recall correctly. To get people to back a luxury wristwatch on a crowdfunding platform is very hard work. Code41 needed to heavily invest in creating compelling visuals and storytelling via its digital assets both on its website and the marketing tools it created to attract customers. While there are best practices in this area, to a large degree this is the wild west. Major watch brands have, for the most part, shied away from such digital-native strategies for lack of predictability in outcomes. It takes effort, persistence, and plain grit to succeed in the way that Code41 and its ilk have, and plucky firms like this have much more capacity to experiment and play as compared to corporate-run legacy giants.
There are, of course, pluses and minuses to this approach that will sort themselves out over time. A great example is that digital native luxury watch brands are concerned with something that most legacy brands are only starting to figure out, and that is a concept called “conversion optimization” the operative idea being how to “convert” visitors to your website into paying customers. This is basically the practice of funneling visitors to your e-commerce store and persuading them into actually paying for a product, as opposed to just browsing. Traditional retailers have similar conversations about how to turn people coming into a retail store into paying customers.
Conversion optimization has a lot of elements, but two things remain persistent, these days: to keep people on the website as long as possible and to not tell people the full details of the transaction until the very end of the process. In the case of Code41, this has the very positive outcome of delivering lots of visual and story-telling media that engages people and keeps them hungry for more information as they consume information on a brand’s website. Code41 does this very well. At the same time, they also make it unclear what the price of the watches is until you get to the end of the process when it comes to some of their watches (not all of them). The long Code41 page on the website has small text in one area that says “Price: from USD 6,045,” and otherwise, there’s nothing about pricing. I believe they fear consumers will abandon the process of learning about the watches if they have sticker shock. The marketing philosophy seems to be that if you hook a consumer in more, they will be less susceptible to price-related website browsing abandonment.
In fact, you can’t seem to even purchase the watch from the Code 41 website (though you can some other models) and need to register with an e-mail address first (presumably to be sent more information later). I understand that from a “lead capturing” perspective, this is good from a brand marketer angle, but I’m not always sure how end-consumers feel about this. The sentiment I get from more and more consumers is that they don’t like having to “jump through hoops” to buy watches online. So it will be interesting to see how the minds at Code41 continue to adapt their e-commerce website to suit both their marketing needs and the preferences of consumers.
What Code41 did with the fifth generation X41 watch is upgrade the case material from grade 2 to grade 5 titanium and offer more water resistance and some additional cosmetic treatments. The core idea of the watch is to have a cool-looking and modern mechanical movement that is both visually interesting and suitable for timepiece enthusiasts. The brand DNA is very modern, in general, so that explains the highly contemporary design ethos, which embraces both sharp edges and asymmetry. The case itself is like an interesting modern take on the Panerai Radiomir, which is cushion-shaped but with a round bezel. The grade 5 titanium X41 case is 42mm-wide, 11.7mm-thick, and water-resistant to 100 meters. The case has a 48mm lug-to-lug distance. Over the dial is a flat AR-coated sapphire crystal with another over the caseback showing off an additional view of the movement.
Code41 produces the X41 both in natural titanium and a black-colored “AeroCarbon” version in black carbon material. I prefer the titanium, personally, but both are a nice look. This same case design is used for other Code41 watches and, while not incredibly distinctive, is a nice blend between classic wearability and contemporary boldness.
The reason for the watch’s expensive price is mostly related to the novel Swiss Made movement, which likely cost Code41 a lot in development. That is the case when it comes to pretty much any new mechanical movement offering. They don’t offer a particular name for the movement yet but we can perhaps call it the caliber X41 automatic. The movement is designed to have some interesting features as well as be novel in its visual presentation and make people feel as though they are getting a much more expensive product. Does it work?
On paper, the X41’s automatic mechanical movement has a lot going for it. It offers COSC-level accuracy, is produced from 297 parts and operates at 4Hz. The movement has 45 hours of power reserve and features the time along with a big date indicator. The automatic winding system is designed to have a peripheral rotor that changes the traditional gearing and offers the benefit of automatic winding without obstructing the view of the movement. The entire movement has been designed to offer a skeletonized view through the watch while also having bridges and sections that can be colored in a variety of ways. The big date indicator system is also exposed, offering a cool (albeit not entirely original) take on the big date indicator. The entire dial and movement aesthetic very much plays with asymmetry, and it tries to be as balanced as possible. Code41 is refining its products more and more with each version, and I think the message carries well with newer watch lovers who did not grow up with classic watches but rather got into luxury watches via futuristic and contemporary designs.
Personally, I like what Code41 is doing with the X41 collection, although I am not the target demographic for this specific piece. I think Code41 has particular success with watch lovers who feel alienated or left out of the messaging from the traditional watch brands who are still confused about how to fully engage with Internet-savvy audiences. The watch isn’t sporty but rather highly expressive and meant to make a statement about how the old names in watchmaking don’t have any exclusivity when it comes to having cool or novel mechanical movements. Code41 is proving a valuable point, and I think the brand’s diligent online marketing efforts are a testament to its stickiness. On the product side, I’d like to see a bit of artistic focus, as opposed to color trendiness, in an attempt to appeal as widely as possible to consumers. For me, the “why are they making this design and what is it meant to suggest to me?” is still a bit lost, but these are actually deeper philosophical questions that brands typically don’t get around to answering in the first few years of business.
What I think is obvious is that Code41 is here to stay, and products like the X41 demonstrate that digital-native watchmakers are no longer bastions of cheap or look-alike products. That will further put legacy brands on check and maintain strong interest from consumers when it comes to wanting to know what brands like Code41 do next. A great example is the MECASCAPE pocket watch concept that more or less fits the form factor of a smartphone. The X41 is a fun design with a lot going for it and clearly enough success for Code41 to have produced six batches of it. Price for the X41 watches is between $6,045 and $6,660 USD, with this particular Code41 X41 Generation 5 Titanium Blue watch costing $6,155 USD. Learn more at the Code41 watches website here.