Yema as a company is hard to explain. Even when you are French. It was established during the late 40’s, I believe that at some time it was even the largest watch manufacturer in France, but then the company crashed and was subsequently bought by Seiko which left it to wither on the vine until it was finally revived a few years ago as an independent company under the hospices of the Amber Group. Interestingly they not only revived the brand name but also the whole operation, including R&D, design, and manufacturing, all of which are centered in France. However, Yema is still straddling the line because it’s not a startup or a micro brand, but they still use crowdfunding campaigns to promote some of their new models. Unlike a micro brand they have their own production and handle their SAV themselves, but they have neither the sales volume nor global presence to fully qualify as a big name in the watch industry. Above all – they are very French to the core, even when they copy what Tudor are doing with their BB58.
The Superman is fulfilling for Yema the same role that the BB58 does for Tudor: A cornerstone upon which a whole brand image is built, it’s a symbol of revival but it’s also one that is based on a design from the 60’s.
Yema copied another page from Tudor’s handbook with filling its catalog with a plethora of Superman’s variants with different dials and colors, various finish levels, in-house or outsourced movements, a choice of different materials and plenty of limited editions enjoying the collaboration or endorsement from various branches of France’s military services, including the French Marine National that lately seems to be more concerned with helping the launch of new watches rather than caring for its own vessels. But then, what’s the point of being French if you can’t get help from your own navy.
My first Superman came from backing a Kickstarter campaign, the same campaign that helped with the launch of Yema new in-house movements. My second Superman was bought after I leveraged my powers of self-deception and managed to convince myself that I was not buying the same watch again. Sometime even I am in awe of myself.
Despite being made from different metals, both models share the same 39mm round elegant case design (there are also 41mm variants). From the top the case is practically invisible, showing only thin and long lugs flowing smoothly into the crown guards. The cases of my models are fully brushed, which in my opinion suits the Superman better than the high polish finish on top of some other models. Looking at the Superman sideway it’s possible to see that the case is rather slim, at just a tad under 10mm without the domed crystal that adds another 3-3.5mm. This slimness is emphasized by the flat sides of the case that are just around 3.4-3.5mm wide. If it wasn’t for its 300m WR, the Superman could easily pass for a slim skindiver.
I commend Yema for publishing on their web site the detailed schematics of the cases used in both for the 39mm and for the 41mm Superman variants. Sadly, these same measurements that are so refreshing to see are also correct about the space width between the lugs of the 39mm version which unfortunately is just about 19mm.
The bezel above the case is very interesting because it’s the same size as the case and by touch alone it’s impossible to feel where one end and the other begin. The bezel on each model has the same slightly protruding coin edge but otherwise they are very different because the bezel on the full bronze model has a Bordeaux red sapphire insert while the bezel on the steel/bronze hybrid is fully made of bronze with relief markers and numerals. That one should also be rotated frequently and oiled occasionally with a drop of silicone oil for gaskets because failing to do so will teach you quickly what bi-metallic corrosion is all about. There is a luminous pip at the 60 minutes markers but otherwise neither of the bezels are lumed.
Being suspicious of Seiko past ownership, I spent a lot of time checking the alignment of the bezel and was greatly relieved to confirm that the alignment is perfect. However, the iconic bezel lock mechanism on the crown makes such perfection unnecessary because in my opinion, having a mechanism that can lock the bezel in place makes the whole ratchety unidirectional 120 clickety clack affair superfluous. The crown itself is signed with a finely engraved Yema logo and it really requires just half a turn to unlock the bezel.
The dial is where my Superman differs. The green dial is printed and looks nice but utilitarian, which fit the no nonsense look of the brushed steel case. The one on the bronze is another story altogether. The indices are applied and gilded. The logo of Yema and the rest of the script, which was kept to the minimum, are finely printed in gold and this is contrasted by the dark, almost black matte dial. The date window is also framed and gilded, and the white numerals are nicely balanced by the white minutes track running around the edges of the dial and behind the indices. Everything on the dial is crisp, elegant, and balanced. It shows that someone really cared at Yema. The Bordeaux red Superman is stunning in my opinion.
The lume is Super-LumiNova C1 with a matching white color by day and that glows in green when its dark. It’s OK but the Superman is not a lume monster.
The hand’s set is another area where Yema is showing that they prefer to do things their own way. First is the shape of the main hands because having an arrow hand is not unusual but placing it on the minutes hand instead of the hour hand is not very common and dividing the arrow tip into two segments is something I haven’t seen done very often. The second’s hand is also segmented but in a way that is both more subtle and visible at the same time because Yema decided to put a small red dot just below the lumed paddle. The finish of the hands on both my Superman is identical: finely polished, and gilded. The only negative I have is that in my opinion the hour’s hand should have been a bit longer and the minute’s hand a bit shorter.
Topping the watch is a double dome sapphire crystal with underside AR. It’s more of a box than a dome and it doesn’t really reminds me of vintage acrylic crystals, but it also doesn’t “modernize” (read tart up) too much the 60’s area design of the Superman so I’m OK with it.
The case back has a deep engraving of Yema logo in full heraldic glory. The coat of arm looks a bit presumptuous but it’s not more stupid than the logos used by other companies with similar pretentions to nobility. At least it prevented a display case that would have made the watch thicker.
Hidden under the coat of arms is the in-house YEMA2000 caliber. It has similar specifications to an ETA 2824, matching it closely in power reserve and smoothness of operation. The Superman is not going to disappoint those who expect silkiness when hand winding and operating the crown. The movement is nicely decorated, which is a bit of a puzzle since although Yema uses it on other models, none of them has a display case. In my experience the YEMA2000 caliber is a bit more sensitive to positions than an ETA and a bit less stable. The rotor bearings are also noisier. All in all, the YEMA2000 is fine and a good timekeeper, but I don’t find it better than an ETA 2824. I still admire Yema for their decision to be independent and invest the resources in a movement of their own.
The Superman is sold with a variety of straps and bracelets. I never had one of Yema bracelets, but all their straps were disappointing. The thin lugs of the Superman are very elegant, but they are also very long, thus creating a huge gap with the leather and tropic strap that came with the steel/bronze. This was so bad that I nicknamed my steel/bronze the “Supergap”. The bronze Superman came with a NATO that does eliminate the gap effect but is also nothing to write home about. I found that Erika’s Originals straps were available in the color and bronze hardware that I liked and in the 19mm size that I needed. I just wish they came as standard OEM instead of forcing me to pay separately.
One recurring topic that surface when discussing Yema is the subject of their SAV (service après-vente) with various horror stories being told about their customer support. Well, I must admit that I broke my steel/bronze Superman and had to send it back to France for repair. How bad was the experience? It took 3 weeks and that included online chats with their representatives and air courier to and from Yema. All the discussions were done in English, all my questions were answered courteously and professionally, and the repair was done correctly. In my case it was a positive experience, as much as sending a watch for repair can be. YMMV of course.
In conclusion, the Yema Superman is different. It’s very French, like a Citroen DS. It’s something that you must accept and if you do it’s a real gem that will learn to enjoy just like I do, and within their ever-growing range of models there is a Superman for you too.