In 2020 and 2021, digital display, retro-chic watches found themselves in a serious moment. In this visit to the WatchTime Archives, we look back on one of these designs from the French watchmaker Yema via the Digidisc and LED models.
As demand for more and more unique watches grows, so too does the demand for digital watches. In the luxury realm, this demand has been apparent for some time, with the king of mechanized digital timekeeping, the A. Lange & Söhne’s Zeitwerk, representing possibly the highest tier. In recent years, the trend has entered the neo-vintage sphere of influence, particularly in the sub-$1,000 price range. Among some recent releases, we saw last year’s Hamilton PSR, recalling the 1972 Pulsar, and shortly before that the Bulova Computron LED, based on another 1970s model of the same name.
Today we’ll be taking a look at two new members of that fold from French watchmaker Yema: the mechanical Digidisc, and the quartz-powered LED. The last time we covered Yema was upon the release of its Superman Heritage 63 Limited Edition, which we went hands-on with in the fall of last year. Now we will be going hands-on with these two models, both introduced in 2020, and placing these digital daily-wearers in the context of the competitive market at large.
Starting with the Digidisc, we find it has a 36-mm steel case with a brushed top finishing and polished sides. The shape of the model is unique and retro-looking, with the rectangular case (excluding the caseback) that features nine individual facets. The shape of the watch is surprisingly comfortable on the wrist, fitting snugly with its bracelet properly adjusted, and rising only 10.65 mm in thickness. On its right side is one of two accents, the 3 o’clock signed crown, which sits tightly to the case and helps provide the model with a 100-meter water resistance. The other accent is a small engraved Yema “Y” centered on the bottom section of the top facet.
The watch is secured to the wrist via the aforementioned steel bracelet, which connects to the case’s 24-mm hooded lugs. Produced in what Yema dubs a “retro-futurist” style, the bracelet has an outward surface that appears to be made up of single links, but a closer inspection of its flip side reveals a more intricate, overlapping construction. The adjustable sliding clasp bracelet is generally quite comfortable and easy to size, but could snag an arm hair or two if you aren’t careful. As far as its quality goes, it feels akin to a similar bracelet produced by Timex for its Q Timex line (itself another product of the ‘70s); it adds value to the watch for its price, but is unlikely to gain much praise on its own merits.
The dial’s unique digital display draws its direct influence from a 1970s watch launched by Yema which also featured a revolving disc. The dial itself is quite small, protected by a small flat sapphire crystal and taking up only about a third of the space on the top facet of the watch. The dial display is available in either black — as in our review model — or an alternative brown colorway (below); both feature a slight striping effect, though with the black model, at least, the effect was quite difficult to discern without making some effort to find it.
The dial’s configuration is relatively straightforward, with a printed white Yema logo on its right side and a revolving double disk display in parallel showcasing the passing hours and minutes. Worth noting is that the Digidisc tells the time via a semi-digital process, with the time steadily changing in rotation rather than the traditional digital “jumping” process that you see on an old-fashioned alarm clock, for example.
Powering the Digidisc is Yema’s second-generation, in-house caliber YEMA2000. The automatic mechanism is capable of a 42-hour power reserve, and claims a daily rate of accuracy to +/-10 seconds per day and a maximum fluctuation rate of +/-25 seconds per day. While these specs might seem somewhat commonplace, the 28,800-vph movement is nonetheless quite significant for its accuracy and cost effectiveness. This is especially apparent when we place the movement into context of being specially modified for the Digidisc’s unique time display, providing a seamless and gradual flow of time for the wearer to observe in the semi-digital style.
Turning now to the quartz-powered Yema LED watch, we find a re-issue of a model released during the 1970s at the height of that decade’s digital LED craze. Like its mechanical sibling, it has a uniquely shaped steel case, water resistant to 100 meters and available in either traditional steel (above) or gold-colored steel (below). Like the Digidisc, the LED features both brushed and polished finishing across its (at least) eleven facets, though it’s sized slightly larger in diameter at 37.5 mm, and slighter thinner at 10.5 mm. Also like the Digidisc, the watch fits comfortably on the wrist even after extended wear, again secured snugly by a single-link brushed steel bracelet.
Besides its unique shape, the case features exposed square-style 20-mm lugs connecting to its bracelet, an engraved Yema logo at the bottom of the top facet, and two pushers on its right side. The top pusher is used to display and cycle through the time, date, and seconds, and the lower pusher is used to adjust each of these.
The watch’s face largely consists of a flat mineral crystal protecting the surface, with a dark rectangular center section featuring the LED display, and a red outer section providing some color and contrast. As mentioned, the time display is activated through the right-side pusher, with each press activating the LED lights for approximately 3 seconds. This functionality hearkens back to the retro style of the original LED watches, which needed to work intensely to conserve power. However, this limitation makes telling the time in a quick glance at the wrist somewhat impractical. Additionally, while not a problem for everyday use, photographing the display of time is quite the tricky endeavor, three seconds being a rather short window to aim, focus, and shoot without some focused attention (see below for failed attempt to grab it). While sometimes inconvenient, the display is nonetheless quite charming, and one that can be quickly enjoyed for its “retro-futuristic” appeal.
Powering the quirky model is a battery-powered LED-Quartz movement, details of which are limited. The caliber is protected behind Yema’s now-familiar screw-down caseback, which is engraved with the brand’s historical crest.
As is the case with almost all digital watches released as part of the vintage-inspired trend, the new Yema LED and Digidisc both seem positioned as interesting novelties poised to join an existing collection, rather than marketed as long-term, everyday-wearers.
With that said, their degrees of appeal are quite different. The LED is an entertaining, albeit occasionally inconvenient timepiece. Its “pros” include being less expensive and offering a similar style to other LED retro-type watches currently on the market while still boasting a unique case shape. Its “cons” would include the aforementioned short time display, making it a very niche piece whose charms appeal to a very specific type of collector.
For most enthusiasts, the Digidisc has more to offer with fewer drawbacks. Between its unique case shape, highly comfortable design, quickly readable time display, and solid, in-house movement, the watch is overall a very interesting and appealing contender with the potential to be a solid sports watch for the right wearer. While its versatility is naturally limited by its unconventional design, it has the makings of a potential cult classic.
Taken together, the two new models from Yema will certainly draw comparisons to the similar offerings from Bulova and Hamilton (above and below, respectively). Whether they will be enough to draw eyes away from both of these larger brands, and even give them a run for their money in the category, remains to be seen, but the stage has been set.
Pricing and Availability
Both the Yema Digidisc and Yema LED are available now directly through Yema and via some authorized retailers. The Digidisc currently retails for $590 in both the black- and brown-dial color options, while the LED is marked at $249 for the steel colorway and slightly higher at $279 for the gold-toned colorway.
To learn more and inquire for purchase, visit Yema’s website, here.