Yema was never a superpower of horology. It wasn’t a renowned brand forgotten by time like Universal Genève, or one revived for the modern era like IWC; it was always just Yema — one French brand alongside a handful of others, producing its best watches in the ultra-competitive 1960s and the live-or-die-by-quartz ‘70s; never standing out and never fading, but simply persisting as a marginal player through various ownership changes and product lines since its founding in 1948.
So it was to my delight — after watching the France vs. Argentina match in the World Cup Round of 16 and wondering what had become of some of those historical French brands — that I found a full-fledged website celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Yema name. I was glad to see the venerable company still producing unique and original watches. I have most often found the brand’s vintage watches to be relatively affordable options on the often inflated vintage-watch market, with funky chronographs and unique divers; if you’re in the market for curiously pristine ‘60s pieces and unapologetically ‘70s-style watches, vintage Yema should be on your list.
At the center of Yema’s 70th-anniversary milestone is the Superman Héritage (vintage model pictured above), a watch produced as part of the brand’s larger Heritage collection, which recalls many of the same historic Yemas so common on vintage forums and boutiques today. The original Superman was released in 1963, and with the design came some aspects already seen on previous dive watches: a Submariner-style dial configuration, a thin Bakelite bezel, crown guards, and a 300-meter dive rating. But it also offered some new features in the style of hands used, the French branding, and the distinctive bezel-locking clamp system located next to the crown. It was this combination of features that made the watch an attractive entry-level dive watch, thus helping Yema become one of the most well-known French watch brands of the 1960s.
The newest commemorative edition of the Superman is a 39-mm steel diver with clear vintage roots that channel the original. The case, with its crown guards and no-nonsense pointy lugs, makes clear allusions to the Oyster-style case that influenced the vintage watch, while the oversized, unsigned crown, and the thin unidirectional bezel, with its L-shaped bezel locking system, recall those unique traits on the historic model. The black dial of the watch lay underneath either a mineral or sapphire crystal, with printed faux-patina markers for the hours, an outer white minute ring, and a 3 o’clock date window. Toward the top of the dial is the vintage Yema logo, while near the bottom is the 990-feet dive rating; sweeping over the face is an arrow-tipped minute hand, sword-style hour indicator, and a seconds counter extremely similar to that seen on the newest Seiko Prospex vintage tribute.
Behind the solid, engraved, commemorative caseback is the Yema-finished automatic ETA 2824-2 movement, which comes with a 38-hour power reserve. The entire watch is strapped on a five-link polished and brushed steel bracelet identical to that used on the vintage model, even coming with a replica folding clasp. The brand has currently priced the domed mineral-crystal option at 949 euros (or about $1,100) and the domed sapphire crystal option at 1,099 euros (or about $1,275).
The modern re-issue is a nearly identical replica of the vintage model, with few major changes evident other than improvements of the case finishing and movement. In fact, Yema used 3D-modeling on a vintage example as one of the first steps of the design process, which speaks to the focused intent of the brand in crafting a faithful homage. Some key similarities are in the case’s shape, the locking system with an oversized crown, and the dial configuration. Some less apparent commonalities are in the option of a “mineral glass” crystal in addition to the modern sapphire (though both are still domed), the use of the replica bracelet, and the same dive rating. Possibly the most significant parallel between the two models is in price: the vintage model was an entry-level diver that offered a good value for those willing to venture outside the primary providers on the market, and the modern model does the same. At a maximum starting price of $1,275, the Superman Héritage is a historically significant yet contemporarily relevant watch at a relatively affordable price, just as was the original.
As mentioned, the improvement in finishing throughout the modern piece and the use of a modern ETA movement are the major noticeable differences from the original. Among the more subtle changes: the case has been enlarged by 0.5 mm, the bezel insert is no longer made of Bakelite, and a small Super-LumiNova dot has been added to the top of the bezel (compared to the entire triangle bearing luminescence on the original). Outside of these changes, on the vintage models I have seen, most have featured the more modern Yema logo compared to the historical one used on this homage, and I have yet to see this style of seconds hand on a vintage model: both a rectangular lollipop and a simple pointer are more common. However, in the production run of the original Superman series, the dials, casebacks, and hands did not remain consistent — not all of the vintage models even featured the Submariner-style dial layout, which seems somewhat essential to the design — so I wouldn’t be surprised to find historical models using these hands.
Seeing as how similar the vintage and modern model are, it almost seems pedantic to point out all of the parallel design cues between them; it is obvious the brand worked hard to create a faithful replica, maintaining as many similarities between the modern and vintage versions as it could. And it is a positive sign that the company released such an interesting watch to commemorate such a milestone year — even considering all the ownership changes it has seen over the past seven decades. Truthfully, I was unaware that Yema had been producing so many interesting watches in the modern era, so covering this significant homage feels like a proper re-introduction of the French brand to the hungry “neo-vintage” market.
For more information (although exclusively in French), check out the Yema website here.
For the most recent article in the “Vintage Eye” series, in which we compare Vacheron Constantin Historiques American 1921 Midsize to its historical counterpart, click here.
Caleb Anderson is a freelance writer with a primary focus on vintage watches. Since first discovering horology, he has garnered extensive knowledge in the field and spends much of his time sharing his opinions among other writers, collectors, and dealers. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on many topics, and a casual runner.