Today we are looking at a watch from a brand I wanted to check out for some time and finally I got a sample in for review. I’m going to skip the history lesson as it has been talked about on many articles and also can be found on Yema official website. But Yema watch brand is undeniably a historically significant watch brand from France that started in 1948. It was eventually acquired by Seiko in 1988 and then made it’s way back to France in 2004, before being finally acquired by the Morteau-based Montres Ambre watch brand. We’ll be taking a look at one of their latest releases, the Yema Navygraf Heritage, a re-issue of their 1970s diver – the Navygraf!
Right now the Yema is getting quite popular due to some watch bloggers on Youtube. But there is also a side that says these watches are pretty bad, and that Yema is overpriced for what it is! And I’m here to find out if it’s worth buying or not? The Navygraf arrived in a pretty nice zipped travel case made of brown coloured leather. I really like when brand make the packaging of the watch functional, in my opinion it is more ecological than making a recycled cardboard box. Inside the travel case we have the watch, warranty card and instructions. The first impression of the watch was kind of “meh”, it didn’t give me that “wow” factor. The design just doesn’t hit me with this model, but it was the one thart was available for review, so we will work with what we have here. But the first thing that I noticed, that I like is the bezel action.
The case if the Navygraf is made of 316L stainless steel. The case is pretty well manufactured with nice, clean surface and lines. The finishing on the case is satin brushed and the case back and crown are polished. The case diameter is 39mm, the thickness is 12,3mm, from lug tip to lug tip it measures at 47mm and the lug width is 19mm. On the wrist it feels quite good and I like the smaller 39mm size. At 3 o ‘clock we have a signed screw-down crown. The crown is hugged with signature design crown guards that you can find on many Yema dive watches. The crown is quite big and has nice grip, crown action is also very precise and good. Although the thread looks pretty weak and my watchmaker confirmed it, it will wear out faster . I like how the engraved “Y” for Yema looks on top of the crown. On top of the watch we have a unidirectional count-up bezel with a 0-60 scale in white colour under a sapphire bezel insert. The bezel is 90 clock one and has a very clean clicks, and no play. I also like the sapphire insert, although I would love a brighter colour ceramic insert, rather than a plain black. One thing that I miss on modern divers is the drilled lugs which make the strap change a little bit easier. The solid screw-in case back is polished and I like how the engraved Yema seal looks. Around the edge of the case back we have some specifications and name of the watch etched. On top of the watch sits a flat sapphire crystal with AR coating, although it is quite poor and sometimes in sunny days it was hard to see the hands from some angles to read a precise time. The water resistance is 300 meters (30ATM) which means that you can swim and dive with this watch without any problems.
The dial on this sample is matte dark grey colour. Around the dial we have the minute track printed in white with hour markers printen in vintage faux patina colour. At 12 o’clock we have the classic Yema logo with the “Y” and under that ir cursive font the name of the model “Navygraf“. Under that closer to the six o’clock we have marking printed in white colour “990 feet, Automatic, Patent Pending”. The patent pending I actually couldn’t find what is that for, but I guess it is for the movement or maybe the design or something. The index hour and minute hands are bright yellow with white middle part which is the lume (Super-LumiNova C5). The lume is ok-ish, but it lasts about 30-40min which is quite weak. The seconds hand is very simple and also in this bright yellow olour as the other hands. Overall the dial is very simple and legible. Yema kept the same design as the original Navygraf had and I like that. I like when brands stay close to the originality.
Now we come to the movement, which in all honesty I think is just a pure marketing trick! First of all a little backstory with the movement and what is said on Yema website. On Yema website they claim: “In 2011, after years of R&D and over €3 million invested, YEMA‘s first-generation self-winding mechanical in-house movement is released: the Caliber MBP1000. Almost 10 years later, the MBP1000 has equipped over 250,000 YEMA timepieces. Following the general enthusiasm for our first caliber and in order to secure our independence, we have developed second-generation In-house Calibers which will be exclusive to the brand: Yema2000 (3 hands) and Yema3000 (GMT)”. In this watch we have the MBP1000 caliber which actually by the papers and everything needed to have the newer Yema 2000, but ok, the caseback is closed anyways so let’s just throw in the old movement. By the specs it is pretty generic with 29 jewels, 4 adjustment positions, 42 hour power reserve and it beats at 4Hz (28 800 A/h). All that is pretty standart right? But then you find that the origin of the movement is “Designed, developed and assembled in France at Morteau workshops” while on their website when it is compared to ETA its says “Swiss Made” and under the Miyota it says “Japan Made”. So they are already hiding where the movement are made! Well the problem with this is that you can’t say it is in-house caliber unless you design, develop, make and assemble it. If the movement is designed in France and made by some other company, in my opinion you can’t call it inhouse.
Also searching more about the Yema we learned that Yema was bought by Ambre group in 2009 and found some info and some watchmaker thoughts on the MBP1000 movement and again the same old story “designed, developed and assembled by the Morteau (small village in Eastern-France) workshops in France” and no mention where are they made. That movement actually wasn’t exclusive to the Yema brand and was also fitted in other Ambre group brand called “Yonger & Bresson” and some other. Reading forums and different Facebook group posts I learned that that movement was pretty bad with poor results of longevity and precision. Also the finishing was really bad.
Now comes the part where I involved my watchmaker and we opened the watch to dig deeper. My watchmaker btw is Imants Jansons who is the best watchmaker on this side of Europe and he daily does service and repair work on such high end watch like F.P.Journe, A.Lange&Sohne, MB&F, Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet etc. he mainly specializes on very complicated watches like double tourbillons, split chronographs, annual calendars and many other complications. He has also done services on some very complicated automatas that many watchmakers don’t even touch. Each year he goes to Patek Philippe factory, Watchmaker institute in Basel, Rolex factory, Omega factory (he is certified Omega watchmaker btw with diploma), Bergeon (maker of watchmakers instruments) to learn the newest tricks, technology in watchmaking and to check out the newest developments in movements. So you now understand what caliber of watchmaker was opening the Yema sample watch. And well, when he opened the case back and took it off, he said “Albert, this is a complete mess!” so then I asked “Why?” and in the same time I took closer look at the movement with loupe and I looked at him and said “Oh, now I see!”, we both laughed and then he dug deeper. The thing that shocked me the most is that there isn’t even the movement inside that is said it needs to have on their website (Yema 2000), it is actually the MBP1000 which is their old movement that shouldn’t be there as these don’t come with these movements so that raises a lot of questions! The first things that you can see right away is the very poor machine work, the plates and parts look worse than on a cheap Chinese movement that you can buy for 30$ on Aliexpress. The perlage finishing is at least done by machine, rather than stamped, but it is sloppy, isn’t consistent and looks just awful, no wonder they didn’t bother to put an exhibition case back on the watch… Looking at the assembly work it is also done poorly. The screw heads are scratched with screwdriver, the plates and bridge too. There is dust all around it, even a fingerprint. It is also oiled in wrong places and too much oil has been applied in a couple of places. My watchmaker has also serviced some cheap Chinese watches too and he said that the machine work and finishing of the MBP1000 movement is very close to those that he saw from China and that he thinks the movements are made in China and even assembled in China because he knows a watchmaker from Morteau who teaches young watchmaker and he said that something like that just can’t come out of their town, that wouldn’t be acceptable! I don’t know if it will translate into pictures as under the loupe all the flaws are easier to spot, but I tried to capture everything as good as I could. The photos were made after watchmaker cleaned it as good as he could without taking it out of the watch. What lies underneath is a mystery.
So my take is that the whole watch (case, bezel, crown, crystal, dial, movements) is manufactured in China and sent separately to France so they can say that it is Assembled in France or Made in France or whatever they say. The movements in my opinion aren’t assembled in France, they just get them assembled right out of China and maybe just regulate them and put into cases, but thats it. It just wouldn’t be smart from financial standpoint to ship the movements in parts to assemble in France where the work is much more expensive than in China. And the design isn’t anything special too, they just made a poorly made caliber with a lot of weak links on it as it runs pretty poorly with +30sec/day. I don’t want to say that China is bad, there are some very cool things happening in Watch industry and they make some really great watches there that were even nominated for GPHG award. But the difference is that those brands say where the watches or movements are made, but Yema just hides it behind some marketing crap that I just hate, because they aren’t better than Vincero, Filippo Loretti or the MVMT. So this is a message to Yema, don’t put marketing in people faces and lie about in-house, as they are far from in-house calibers if you aren’t making them and can’t even do good job assembling them (if they are even assembled in France).
The bracelet on the watch is also a disappointment. It pulls hairs, it rattles a lot and has push pins. The bracelet is 19mm at the lugs which is the thing I hate on watches when they put these weird strap sizes (17, 19, 21, 23mm) because there isn’t many options for straps, yes you can try putting on a 20mm strap, but it won’t look good. At the clasp the strap tapers to 16mm. The clasp is pretty ”ok-ish”, I like the Y engraved on top of it, it is milled, has 6 micro-adjustments and divers extension. Another kind of cool touch is the address of Yema engraved in the clasp. But there is a little flaw with the clasp where the edges of it rubs on the bracelet itself and leaves marks. It has been 4 years since I’ve seen this happen on a watch bracelet and usually those were some cheap Chinese watches.
Overall I really don’t think the watch is worth the 749$, maybe half of it, but nothing more. I would better spend those 749$ on a Swiss Made diver with a generic ETA movement or buy two microbrand divers with Miyota movements rather than this. I think Yema just wants to build the brand on the name, not the quality. They actually market themselves that way if you check the paid reviews etc. I also hear a lot of bad reviews of the watches breaking and bad customer service. You can find the bad reviews on Facebook, Trustpilot, Watch forums and many other places. Can I suggest this watch or any Yema as a watch brand in a whole? Well, maybe, they have some better looking models, but only if you buy them new/used without paying more than 300-400$ for automatic version, but even then, I would seriously consider different watches like Zelos, Boldr, RLG, Fonderia Navale or basically most of the dive watch micro-brands, their quality is far more better for 2x less money.