Yema – an (ex) Seiko sub-brand declares bankrupty

Posted by Harry Bishop on Dec 13th, 2008
2008
Dec 13

Although most North American Seiko collectors will have never heard of Yema, this formerly French brand was actually a Seiko sub-brand between 1988 and 2005. There are Yema models from this era that are specifically of interest to diver collectors.

yema-seaspider-seiko.jpg

The above watch is a Yema SeaSpider, and contains Seiko’s higher-end 4S15 (28800 bph) hand windable and hacking automatic caliber. This is the same movement used in recent Alpinist watch models from Seiko. You could buy one of these for under $200 fairly easily about 5 years ago, but it’s rare to see one now. This used one above is currently for sale on the SCTF forum for $300. Here’s the same model with a black dial, this one from an online Seiko diver’s photo collection, and a blue Kinetic version from the forum.

yema_seaspider_04.jpg

yema-seaspider-kinetic.jpg

Yema was started by Henry Louis Belmont in Besançon France in 1948. It was a fairly popular brand in France in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s; and had both consumer and military sales, including French space missions. Interestingly enough, it was still used for that purpose even after having been purchased by Seiko. Here’s an early 1980s Yema Spationaute, and a late 1980s Yema Spacionaute III (images are from a ForumMontres summary of Yema watches in space missions). You can see that the brand was utilizing Seiko movements even before their purchase by the firm.

yema-spationaute.jpg

yema-spationaute-iii.jpg

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 (again thanks to ForumMontres) 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.

yema-superman.jpg

yema-superman-ii.jpg

yema-superman-ii-quartz.jpg

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.

yema-sous-marine.jpg

yema-military2.jpg

yema-yachtinggraf.jpg

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!

12 Responses

  1. Michael Says:

    Thanks for your very well documented report.

    Now be aware that AMBRE Group just bought the YEMA company (this Morteau, Jura, based family group owns already : YONGER & BRESSON, PRIMA CLASSE, PACO RABANNE, CATENA – all popular quality & fashionable mid-segment priced watches).
    The homepage for all is still http://www.yema.com

    Due to the turbulences induced by Peacemark (responsible of YEMA bankruptcy), the new or altered YEMA range is still not online. Watch for changes sooner or later.

    I have posted a link to an article I wrote about YEMA in my newspaper edition ; it is in french, but the ‘Translate’ function allows for a sustainable english version. The report pictures feature 2 of my own watches (the two E5 anadigit movements watches : Yachtingraf & Spationaute II).

    YEMA was an early producer of affordable waterproof watches; main ranges were marine sports (range =Navygraf), motorsports (range = Rallygraf), airborne action (range =Flygraf).
    With Omega and Poljot, it was the only producer of space application watches. Later it provided also very peculiar models of advandced technology for polar expeditions.

    Today I just secured the purchase of one of the very last Seaspider Kinetic available in store (yes, the Seiko auto quartz system) with an inner rotating compass rose bezel. With a price tag 40% off, it’s a real bargain for a rare item! (€170. vs 284.00). And in addition to the very special box, I will have also an extra orange dial.

    I asked also for a stack of dealer’s merchandise (stands, plates, display cases, tags,…) in the case Ambre was to change all brand designs & styles.

    Plenty of people like this brand in France and some items are already collectors.
    Not all are aware that YEMA was an early user of Hattori (Seiko) movts in many models.

  2. Seiko Champion » Blog Archive » Yema purchased by Ambre Says:

    [...] year I posted about the bankruptcy of Yema, a company that despite all the “French company, French [...]

  3. David Says:

    Hello,
    I saw your Yema watches and I’d like to send
    you a pic of my watch. It is a vintage LCD YEMA
    with several modes. I’m not sure how the yachting mode works. Please send me your email address and I’ll send you a photo.

    Thanks very much, Martin

  4. Harry Bishop Says:

    Hi Martin – email is on the site, h-bishop@rogers.com, I will certainly take a look but not that knowledgeable about the quartz versions. Harry

  5. Paul Skett Says:

    Harry, I saw you wrote above:
    You can see that the brand was utilizing Seiko movements even before their purchase by the firm..
    Interesting. I collect Seiko 7A38 quartz chronographs. I’ve recently diversified into other brands using the same 7A38 movement.
    I have recently acquired a Yema Spationaute III, and a similar appearing Yema Flygraf (both from around 1988, and theoretically powered by Seiko 7A38).
    Yet the movements in these two watches (and other Yema and Kamatz ’7A38′ chrono’s) are signed ‘Shimauchi Ltd. (V906).
    If indeed, Seiko as the parent company, was supplying movements to Yema ….
    Why would they sign them ‘Shimauchi Ltd.’ ?
    $64K question: Who is / was Shimauchi Ltd. ?

  6. Harry Bishop Says:

    Hi Paul – sorry I’ve seen the same question on some forums, and know nothing substantive about this, I expect the details may be on some of the Japanese sites but have been unable to confirm. Seiko have always numbered their “private label” movements differently than the equivalent/base Seiko watch movement, even if basically the same. They have provided movements for many watch brands you would never think of having Seiko movements in them. It would be great to have a list of movements showing which Seiko/OEM movement numbers match each other, but I’m not aware of there being one.

    Harry

  7. Paul Skett Says:

    Harry,
    Thanks for your reply. It was probably me asking the same question.
    I haven’t gotten any further (yet) into discovering exactly who Shimauchi Ltd. are (or were), but ….
    I can make one little contribution to a Seiko/OEM movement cross-reference list, if anyone ever decided to compile it.
    The Seiko 7A38 15J Day/Date chronograph movement is a.k.a.:
    1) Shimauchi Ltd. V906 – as used by Yema (C.G.H.) and in the Kamatz 51×000 chrono’s built by Yema.
    2) Ferrari Cal. 531 – as used in the various Ferrari Formula quartz chronographs built by Cartier in the llate 1980′s and early 1990′s, and
    3) Orient J3920 – as seen (so far) in one Orient quartz chrono from the mid-1980′s.
    The only differences between the movements are the way they are signed on the anti-magnetic back-plates. Shimauchi and Ferrari are printed. Seiko and Orient are stamped.

  8. Harry Bishop Says:

    Thanks Paul, good info to share!
    Harry

  9. Yema Sous Marine (FE Cal. 4611)… | The Watch Spot Says:

    [...] like to read a more detailed history of the Yema brand and see more of their models, check out this post on Harry Bishop’s excellent blog Seiko [...]

  10. Dave Says:

    Hi, I think that a reasonable explanation for the Shimauchi Ltd name is that Seiko Epson have an office in Shimauchi, (SEIKO EPSON Co., Shimauchi Office (Kouki) ). I may well be wrong though!.

  11. raymond Says:

    hello, my mom has a vintage Yema watch from 1965. it is me mechanical in great shape and still works with original movement. the bracelet is in white gold. she is considering selling and would like an idea of what it could be worth. Any help is greatly appreciated.

    regards,

    ray

  12. Harry Bishop Says:

    Depending on the model/type I may or may not have info, can you email pics of the front and back please.

    Cheers
    Harry

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