Yema is arguably one of the best-known French watchmakers with a rich history. Younger French brands such as Baltic have been getting a lot of attention lately, but Yema dates back to 1948 with several historic watches. The Superman model is its crown jewel, which debuted in 1963 and became a favourite of French Air Force pilots and professional divers. It came standard with a 300-metre water-resistance rating and unique bezel-lock mechanism. Yema draws from the past with two new Superman Heritage GMT dive watches, one with an always popular Pepsi (blue and red) bezel, and one with a more toned-down grey/blue colour scheme. Let’s have a closer look at these two new editions.
The Yema SUPERMAN
Based in the town of Morteau, France, Yema has definitely left its mark in a crowded industry. Formula 1 champion Mario Andretti wore a Yema Rallygraf chronograph and Jean-Loup Chrétien brought the first French watch into space in 1982, the Yema Spationaute 1. A specialised model was also used by French explorer Jean-Louis Etienne for the first solo trip across the North Pole. The Superman is the brand’s most iconic (and perhaps most iconic French watch), and Yema has faithfully revived it in recent years. Vintage-inspired watches are very popular these days, and most brands are capitalising on the trend.
A recent example of a Heritage Superman reissue was in 2018 with an almost exact copy of Yema’s 1970 model (Reference 53.00.16). There’s a healthy collection of Superman models in the brand’s current portfolio, including bronze models and my favourite Yema watch, the rencetly-launched Superman Skin Diver Limited Edition. The ones within the Heritage collection have the most direct connection to the past, and all Superman models have a few things in common. The external bezel lock mechanism located at 3 o’clock is the most visible of these, almost resembling an elongated date window. A 300m water-resistance rating is another, and both match the 1963 original.
In addition to Superman, Yema has several purpose-built, historic models, including the Flygraf chronograph for pilots, Rallygraf chronograph for racing (again, a favourite of Mario Andretti ) and the Yachtingraf, a regatta chronograph watch. The four collections, debuting in the 1960s and 1970s, remind me of Omega’s iconic models in concept – the Speedmaster, Seamaster and Railmaster – but are lesser-known, of course. All of these Yema watches have been revived in the Heritage collection in recent years. Yema has changed hands several times since 1948 and was even owned by Seiko from 1988 to 2004, but saw its final acquisition in 2008 by French watchmaker group Montres Ambre. Much of the current portfolio has outsourced mechanical or quartz movements, but Yema also has its own France-made manufacture movements as well, including the YEMA3000 calibre in this latest Superman Heritage GMT pair.
Classic CASE & DESIGN
The brushed stainless steel case is 39mm in diameter, matching original Superman watches from decades ago. It’s great to see the brand stay faithful with this very wearable size. The domed sapphire crystal is a full 2.6mm thick and provides retro distortions at angles and really helps nail that vintage aesthetic with modern durability. The bidirectional rotating bezel has an aluminium insert and comes in two flavours – classic blue/red Pepsi and blue/grey, and serves as both a diving bezel and 24-hour indicator.
At 3 o’clock is the aforementioned external bezel lock mechanism that’s been a recognisable Superman feature since 1963. A number from the bezel usually shows through like a second date window, depending on how the bezel is rotated. It works by locking onto the serrated edge of the bezel when the crown is screwed down. That screw-down crown has a full guard and Yema’s logo embossed, and water-resistance is rated at 300 metres, again common to the original and all current Superman models. The back is solid, and both watches come fitted with a matching steel bracelet and requisite divers extension.
Diver’s DIAL, with extra GMT Functions
The Superman Heritage line first gained a GMT hand in 2019, and it’s great to see it again here. That extra hand is black with a red triangular tip filled with Super-LumiNova BGW9, which seemingly floats at the edge as the arm blends into the background. The dial (background) is glossy black with indices painted with Super-LumiNova BGW9. The markers are a bit smaller than other Superman GMT models (Worldtime GMT Coke, for example) but are perfectly visible for a diver.
The polished steel minute and arrowhead hour hands have Super-LumiNova inserts, along with the seconds hand sporting the brand’s “shovel” tip from the 1970s. A black date window sits at 3 o’clock. By combining the GMT complication and 24-hour bezel, it’s possible to track three time zones at once. Very useful for frequent travellers. The two-tone colour on the bezel also allows for a quick day/night reference. Like the GMT Coke model, this is part of the Superman Worldtime series, which is printed in red above 6 o’clock.
Manufacture FRENCH CALIBRE
Unlike the ETA 2824-2 or Sellita SW200 used in 3-hand models, the latest Superman Heritage GMT pair have Yema’s own calibre YEMA3000 automatic. It has 29 jewels, beats at 28,800vph (4Hz), with a 42-hour power reserve. This is an evolution of Yema’s first in-house calibre, the MBP1000, from 2011. It’s adjusted in four positions with an average accuracy of +/- 10 seconds per day (max. variation of +/- 25 seconds per day). Accuracy tests were confirmed by the Centre Technique Horloger Français, an independent French institution. Functions include central hours, minutes, hacking seconds, GMT and date. Both the accuracy and power reserve are improved from the ETA 2824-2, and the movement widens the brand’s independence.
A GREAT ALTERNATIVE to Swiss models
We generally don’t think of France regarding movement’s production, despite its long watchmaking history and proximity to Switzerland. Pequignet is a rare one today, but Yema is clearly leading with a historic name and ten years of manufacture calibres. Compared to ETA or Sellita counterparts, the YEMA3000 is an impressive achievement with a GMT complication to boot. Specs are better, if only slightly, and Yema’s ability to design and produce its own movements puts it in a league above other French brands.
The case diameter, domed crystal mimicking retro plexiglass and classic external bezel lock showcase over 50 years of Yema’s bloodline (for lack of a better term). Forget all of that for a moment, and you’re still looking at affordable, classic dive/GMT automatics with an always popular blue/red Pepsi variant. And hey, it’s genuinely cool having a bona fide French movement in lieu of something Swiss or Japanese.
Availability & Price
The Superman Heritage GMT watches retail for EUR 1,190, which is a great price for an in-house GMT diver, especially from a brand that defines French watchmaking in many ways. The pair of watches are definitely not copying anything, using design language from Yema’s own historical portfolio. If you’re a traveller and/or diver looking for something very functional, well designed and powered by something outside of Switzerland, definitely take a close look at what Yema has to offer.
For more information and to place a preorder, visit Yema’s website.