by Patrick Gilbertson June 09, 2021 75 Comments
A Week on the Wrist: The YEMA Superman GMT
In a market saturated with sub £1,500 entry-level luxury ‘microbrand’ watches that all seem to claim their place in the horological history books, brands with a traceable lineage, interesting history and reasonable value are somewhat few and far between. Aside from the obvious choices from Oris, TAG Heuer and the mid-tier brands within the Swatch group, it seems that there is a trade-off when spending £1,500 on a watch that’s not from the aforementioned brands: a lack of heritage that us enthusiasts often factor in so highly as part of our purchasing decisions. Today I’m reviewing a contender within this popular price range that promises an impressive spec list, as well as an interesting history - the Yema Superman GMT.
Yema was founded by Frenchman Henry Louis Belmont. Once graduating top of his class at the National Watchmaking School in Besançon in 1931, Belmont formed Yema in 1948, supposedly naming the brand after running a contest to come up with a name in a local school. Yema have accomplished multiple achievements over their 72-year history including supplying the first French watch in space, accompanying explorers to the North Pole as well as, in 2009, developing their own in house caliber MBP1000 - an impressive feat for a comparatively small, european ‘Maison’. The original Superman was launched in 1963 and was equipped with the same ‘bezel-lock’ system as the modern example as well as an impressive 300m of water resistance.
The Original 1963 Superman (Credit - WatchTime)
The current Superman range is split up into 4 subcategories with 12 model variants available in total. This includes 3-hander divers in black and blue, bronze cases, ‘Maxi’ dials, quartz and automatic movements as well as today's GMT subject, currently offered with both green and black bezel variants. The vast majority of the Superman range also come in both 39mm and 41mm cases - more on that later.
I’ve worn this 41mm Superman GMT in black for just over a week now and I’ve compiled some thoughts on what I think is great about the watch, as well as what I’d change if I had the choice. Firstly, I’ll run through the specifications and then I’ll get into some more subjective analysis on the experience of wearing the watch for a week.
Specifications are, of course, a key aspect in what makes up the value proposition offered by a watch, so let’s start there. Both the 39mm and 41mm Superman GMT’s are exclusively available through Yema’s website and are priced at €1,499 on the steel bracelet, with a €50 reduction on that price if you were to go with either the sailcloth or leather strap options. However, once you get to the stage of specifying your watch on the site, a message box pops up offering a 15% off promo code, as well as a free sailcloth strap option, bringing the overall price down to €1,275 or around £1,150 for us here in the UK. The watch itself is all 316L stainless steel with a case width of 41mm and a lug-to-lug of 48mm. The lug width on the 41mm Superman GMT is a crowd-pleasing 20mm, meaning all of your favourite 20mm Bark & Jack straps (available at barkandjack.shop) will look fantastic with the Yema’s utilitarian and monotone dial and bezel design. The watch is powered by the four-hands plus date ETA Caliber 2893-2 which has a supplied accuracy of +/- 12 seconds per day, however, Yema claims to regulate the movements at the factory to an impressive +/- 6 seconds per day. Although this reference of Superman features a 24-hour bezel and GMT hand, the watch still features a similar case to the purist Yema divers with the same screw-down crown and 300m of water resistance.
When drawing up an initial list of what I like about the watch, three elements were clear. Firstly, it’s refreshing to see an all-brushed case on an every-day dive watch. So often luxury dive watches have blingy polished surfaces and chamfers that take away from the overall tool-like aesthetic. Apart from the high-polish signed crown, the watch is almost completely matte. The case is not merely sandblasted but, in fact, finished beautifully in light horizontal brushing. The case itself is a huge draw; it features drilled lug holes, a good level of curvature and a nice slim profile of just 10mm thick without the crystal, and only 12.6mm thick from the top of the dome to the caseback.
The second of the three initial standout features is the double domed sapphire crystal. While not quite to the depth extremes of the H.Moser x MB&F Endeavour Cylindrical Tourbillon, the 2.6mm thick piece of domed sapphire provides a unique vintage look that replicates the aesthetic of a piece of acrylic crystal, while offering all of the modern benefits of sapphire - a great advantage over similar vintage inspired divers such as the Lorier Neptune. The crystal really accentuates the dial in a way that creates the illusion of depth, while in reality the dial remains flat.
The last of my favourite three features of the watch is it’s sapphire bezel insert. While aluminium bezels look great on numerous watches, including the original Superman, we all know how easy they can be to scratch. Also, from a value standpoint I can’t help but feel short changed at the prospect of paying over £1,000 for a new watch with an aluminium insert. Equally, ceramic bezels often add a more modern and ‘blingy’ look to dive watches, that isn’t desirable when creating what is essentially a modernised remake. Yema struck the perfect balance of vintage bakelite-esque aesthetics with modern durability in the sapphire insert featured in the Superman GMT. Additionally, the bezel is lumed - this is great when diving in a dark cave 100m under the surface or equally fun to show off to your mates when there’s a power cut in the pub. The bezel action itself feels fantastic and while the ‘bezel-lock’ feature is not strictly necessary, due to the way modern bezels are ratcheted, it adds a unique aesthetic that sets the watch apart from other monochromatic dive watches with circular indices. It’s also worth noting that the Superman can be ordered with, and without the bezel locking system. I would advise ordering it with and then removing it yourself if you’re not a fan via removing the crown and sliding the small metal clip off of it before reinsertion.
Additionally, all Yema dive watches come with incredibly deep-etched casebacks brandishing their company logo - a nice touch. A note to potential buyers: I normally wear dive watches that are 40-42mm on my 8-inch wrists, however, the 41mm variant has an abnormally tall lug-tip to lug-tip measurement meaning that if I were to purchase the watch for myself, I would go with the 39mm variant.
While the Superman GMT does present a great value proposition, as with all watches, its not without its faults. I found the construction of the bracelet to not match the high standards of the case and dial. Firstly, the watch as a whole comes in at a fair chunk lighter than the competition at around 128g. The bracelet is where this is visible; the links feature the irritating pin and collar adjustment system and the clasp feels comparatively lighter and less solid than that of a TAG Aquaracer or a similarly priced Christopher Ward. Furthermore, while the bracelet tapers very nicely, where the lugs meet the end of the bracelet the links flare outwards, adding to the watches oversized aesthetic. While I’m not too much of a fan of how this looks, my real gripe with this aspect is how the bracelet can get caught in the lugs as shown in the image. It causes that metal-on-metal scrape that causes us, as a group of enthusiasts, to cringe.
The second minor concern that I have with the Superman GMT is the price. While initially, it’s hard to look at a well-specced 300m dive watch with a Swiss ETA movement from a heritage brand and criticize a £1,150 price tag, the grounds of my concern come from the fact that Yema offer a quartz variant in the Superman series that features the same case and bracelet with a Swiss quartz movement for £500. Considering the fact that I could buy an ETA 2893-2 or around £300, aside from the sapphire bezel, it’s difficult to see where the other £350 goes. Secondly, for a mid-range/entry-level luxury watch brand, it’s a bit off-putting to offer pseudo 15% discounts to every customer that browses the website. If Yema were to add a more solid-feeling clasp with screw-links rather than push-pins, I think this could be one of the best value for money watches, in and around the £1,000 price point.
Overall, I really enjoyed my week with the Yema Superman GMT, without calling it an affordable alternative to something like a 16710 GMT Master II, it really does give off a similar toolistic and vintage vibe. I like the history, the overall quality is excellent and the case finishing is truly unlike anything else that I have in my collection. As the watch is also undoubtedly a strap-monster, I can whole-heartedly recommend the model to anyone who is looking for a rugged, functional and historically relevant GMT.
What are your thoughts on Yema and the Superman GMT? Let us know your opinions in the comments section below as well as which other watches you’d like to see in the ‘week on the wrist’ series of articles.
by Patrick Gilbertson May 26, 2021 44 Comments