The modern-vintage watch craze has been going strong for several years now and shows no signs of abating. While some might roll their eyes at yet another vintage re-issue, Yema is worth a serious look if you’re interested in getting your hands on a truly spot-on vintage reissue from a brand with a storied, but often overlooked, history and a seriously impressive back catalog.
Founded in 1948, French watch brand Yema has an enviable history, producing everything from military issued tool watches to racing chronographs worn by the one-and-only Mario Andretti — to watches worn in space (on 10 different occasions). In the 1960s, Yema was France’s top watch exporter, selling half a million watches each year in 50 countries around the world. As a result, Yema enjoys a strong cult following, despite flying somewhat under the radar in North America. Currently, Yema is placing a major focus on producing reissues from different time periods throughout their history.
Since 1963, all Yema Superman dive watches have utilized a unique bezel-lock mechanism. It’s one of those “why didn’t I think of that?” inventions — a simple bracket attached to the crown that allows the bezel to rotate when the crown is screwed out, but locks against the bezel edge when the crown is fully screwed in. The result is an extremely secure bezel that won’t budge when bumped or jarred. The Yema Superman Heritage Blue reviewed here is a particularly striking iteration of the Superman that was originally issued to French Air Force pilots in the 1970s. Despite its svelte dimensions and plentiful style, the Superman watches were, and continue to be, serious dive watches rated to 990 feet. I took a deep dive with the Superman Heritage Blue to discover whether this stylish blue diver from the 1970s can still hold its own today.
No way around it, this is a sexy case. Viewed from the side, the case produces a stacked, sandwich effect, with a surprisingly thin mid-case and long lugs sweeping elegantly across the middle. On the wrist, this construction provides a slimming effect — a 13mm height (including crystal) on a 39mm watch might feel a bit stout, but the case design results in a much slimmer looking and feeling watch. Some will likely take issue with the high-polished surface of the case (and bracelet mid-links). Fair enough, but this is a vintage re-issue and it stays true to that 1970s vibe; a brushed or blasted surface simply wouldn’t provide the same visual pop or feeling of authenticity.
One of the most distinctive elements of the watch is the captive bezel lock system — it just wouldn’t be a Superman without it. Unscrew the crown a few turns and the bezel turns like any other 120-click sapphire crystal bezel (nice tension, no play), but screw the crown back in, and the bezel is fixed. A simple solution to avoid errant bumps knocking the timing bezel out of position. When unscrewed, the locking mechanism does feel a bit flimsy (it is, after all, just a thin piece of metal), but when screwed in, it’s solid with no play against the bezel at all. Necessary? Probably not, but it’s a fun, unique detail that adds some character.
On my 6.75” wrist, the 39mm diameter is an excellent size and wears quite comfortably. The watch does wear slightly larger than the specs would suggest, especially on the bracelet, due to the relatively long lungs and the lack of immediate articulation at the end-links (see Straps and Accessories below). Personally, I’ve found the organic, flowing case lines and unique case structure charming. It’s a looker of a case that’s both visually interesting and comfortable — two attributes that don’t always go together.
On the caseback, you’ll find the detailed Yema seal, featuring the brand’s classic, stylized Y. Yeah, I know you almost never see the caseback, but I appreciate it when a brand puts the time and effort into an attractive, detailed caseback. Here, the caseback gives the piece an extra bit of French flair, a nice reminder of the watch’s provenance.
Dial and Hands
Though the case and bezel on the Yema Superman Heritage Blue evoke a period aesthetic, the dial is where the 70s vibe truly comes to the fore. The first thing you notice is the striking sunburst of the dial. Depending on the light or angle of your wrist, the dial shifts hues from a true blue to a deep abyssal blue with hints of purple (blurple?). The sunburst adds dynamic character to the piece, and I’ve enjoyed the shifting hues. One downside to the color variation is that it sacrifices a bit of legibility. But my guess is that those interested in this watch aren’t looking for a tool watch that places legibility and diving functionality before aesthetic considerations. Instead, I view this piece more as a dress diver for the right personality, or the right occasion.
The hour markers are polished, applied squares bisected vertically by a thin line of mint green Super-LumiNova C5. The markers are the same size and shape, without differentiation of the 12 o’clock marker, which provides balance and symmetry, but sacrifices quick readability. This is especially true in the dark, as the thin lines of lume aren’t very powerful. However, the date window at 3 o’clock breaks up the symmetry at night, so it’s not difficult to figure out what time it is (and yes, I’d agree with any readers that think a no-date version would be even better). That said, the markers look beautiful on the sunburst dial and provide a lot of the personality and vintage flair. Plus, it’s simply a nice change of pace to get away from typical circle/rectangle/triangle markers.