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Yema (Fr)

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There were many fairly famous earlier models from Yema, although they are certainly much more well known in France than here in North America. In fact, Yema were producing 500,000 watches per year by the late 1960s, and 1.3 million per year by the late 1970s, although by that time quartz was a large component of their production.

The Yema Superman was first introduced in 1963, and being a solidly built watch at 300m water resistance, that made it a good contender for a quite serious dive watch at the time. Below are pics of the Yema Superman (initially a France Ebauches 3611 movement) and Yema Superman II (both ETA automatic movement, and quartz). They are all obviously somewhat derivative (and in fact were marketing as a French Rolex alternative), but still very nice 300m dive watches, especially the earlier ones.





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Moving backwards in time, here are some images of some other model lines from Yema. These include a Sous-Marine (this model line was first introduced by Yema in 1956), a military issue, and a YachtingGraf. Yema also issued the NavyGraf, FlyGraf (chrono with Valjoux movements), MeanGraf, RallyGraf, and WorldGraf, along with several other more recent models. Some of their watches are very nice indeed, and well worth collecting.







In 1982, after 34 years running the firm, Henry-Louis Belmont stepped down, and his son John Henry Belmont Jr took over. However the new CEO quickly decided to sell the firm. Prompted into the deal by the French Government, Matra (Group Lagardere) took control of Yema. This year saw production rise to 2 million units, and also saw the start of Yema’s association with French space missions.

Although I do not know what actually prompted the sale to Seiko in 1988, by 1995 the Seiko subsidiary CGH (Compagnie Générale Horlogère) was responsible for the brands Seiko, Pulsar, Lassale, Lorus, Jaz and Yema within France. That year Yema became a direct subsidiary of Seiko as Yema SA, the Dolce Gabbana, Nike, Agnes b, and Breil brands were released by Seiko within France through this organization, and Louis-Eric Beckensteiner joined the firm as general manager to grow the business (at the time producing only a bit over 100,000 watches). After becoming CEO of Yema in 2001, four years later in 2005 Beckensteiner purchased the Yema brand from Seiko, and it was renamed Yema Maison Horlogère Française 1948.

Although French news called this a return of the brand to France, there was a close relationship with China. The term used was “consortium” – Beckensteiner was the public figure but not the source of the purchase funds, the purchase price was publicly stated to be 1 million Euro for the trademark and 24 employees. A year after this change in ownership, Yema announced a relationship with PeaceMark Limited for watch distribution into China.

Recent news (earlier this year) seemed positive. Yema displayed at Basel World 2008, and as late as July announced the move to a new 15,000 sq.ft. plant in Besançon (in one of those “free” zones that are always annoying to fully tax-paying and export-limited corporations everywhere).

Then on 19 November, Le Blog Des Montres reported that Yema had declared bankruptcy. It’s at that point we learn that PeaceMark Limited had become the majority shareholder in 2006, and had been recently absorbing some of the Yema production. In other words, Yema had quietly become a Chinese firm with a French marketing face, with most people none the wiser. Sad and unfortunate for the true French watchmaking industry, but not uncommon these days – Germany and Switzerland have seen their fair share of this type of situation also. I’m not sure if it had anything to do with the bankruptcy, or if that was just the current economic woes, but the speed of the change makes me think there was some connection.

Yema watches are rare in North America, and this will only make them more so. A number of their older lines are fairly high quality and definitely collectible. If you’re into vintage watches from earlier brand names, and have a chance to pick up a Yema while they’re still relatively cheap, do it!

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