The passage of time is a curious beast. Its merciless march cuts a devastating swath right through the very center of our lives like a bull in a china shop. Yet time’s destructive forces tend to work slowly and quietly, while we are not paying close attention, it surreptitiously steals away our valuable hours and minutes as our backs are turned. Every so often, however, something comes along that causes us to sit up and take notice of those precious seconds as they tick by.
Just that sort of thing happened for me a week ago when the Superman Heritage Bronze arrived on my doorstep, and in those seven days I have sat up and taken notice of a great many things that relate to the patient, yet eternal passage of time.
Before diving in any further, I have a confession to make: I really don’t like bronze watches, or at least I didn’t think I did. Not only that, but I have been guilty in the past of disparaging the material when it is used in watch cases, calling bronze timepieces “hideous” and on more than one occasion calling them “unwearable.” To my eye, bronze watches had a tendency of looking like a piece of unsightly hardware that had been torn from the bilge pump of a scuttled river barge. This unattractive impression was only compounded by the fact that bronze has the unseemly quality of taking on a patina that appeared scoungy to me. This dingy, often greenish oxidation only further cemented the impression in my mind that these watches were striving to be the fashion equivalent of horological scrap metal.
Much to my surprise, these negative preconceptions about all bronze timepieces evaporated in the blink of an eye one day in June when I happened to spot the pre-order launch of the Superman Heritage Bronze. This watch, which paid tribute to the well-known, original Superman models of the 1960s produced by the venerable French brand, Yema, was somehow different. Staring at the screen, I found myself increasingly perplexed; what was it about this particular bronze watch that left me feeling so enamored? With a sense of growing intrigue, I began the long quest to learn as much as I could about the original Superman model and this curious new reissue.
It didn’t take much reading before the little bronze beauty had me hooked and I was placing my order. The days and weeks that followed plodded along with agonizing slowness, and so I busied myself trawling the Internet for early reviews, buoyed by Yema’s occasional updates that the project remained on course.
Finally, months later on a random Thursday afternoon in October, I received an email from Yema informing me that the watch had shipped. Unfortunately, there was an error on the address label that had the potential of making the watch unlivable. Luckily, a quick email to customer service was met with an extremely rapid response, and the shipping department was able to contact the courier service to have a corrected address label affixed while en route. With that minor hiccup out of the way, the package arrived at my doorstep from France almost as fast as a trans-Atlantic Concorde from Paris to New York.
The watch arrived well packed with plenty of extras, including three different straps, a nice presentation box, a watchmakers kit and a very practical wet bag. Once in hand, the first thing that strikes you is just how much bronze you are greeted with. Quite a few brands opt to incorporate bezel inserts into the design of their bronze offerings, leaving the eye to only catch glimpses of the material on the lug faces and the sides. Yema, on the other hand, chose a different tact and decided to make a bold splash with their presentation. By forgoing the insert and wisely opting instead to engrave the numerals directly into the radially-brushed bezel, the Superman allows the wearer to see more bronze and more deeply appreciate the unique qualities of this perplexing alloy.
The second thing I quickly noticed is the beautiful dial that graduates from a lighter powder blue at the center to a darker, navy blue around the outer perimeter. The familiar Yema “Y” is prominently featured at the top as also found on the original. The “France” at 6:00 is a pleasant departure from the ubiquitous “Swiss” and “Swiss Made” script to which many of us have become overly accustomed.
The dial itself is capped by a domed sapphire crystal in a highly conspicuous nod to the original acrylic. The anti-reflective crystal also slightly magnifies the dial to create a delightfully old- school distortion along the outer edge. Had Yema chosen a flat crystal and set the dial deeper into the bezel – as is done with most modern pieces – they would have not been able to capture that vintage charm so many of us appreciate and actively seek out.
One noted departure from the original design, however, is the decision to omit a date window at 3:00. The consensus among most commentators seems to indicate that it was a good decision, as it brings a sense of balance and doesn’t mar the otherwise pretty blue dial, plus there isn’t much need to know the date while exploring the ocean depths.
The luminescent markers are made up of an array of geometric shapes, which are also reflective of the original. They all feature the familiar cafe au lait lume that has become de rigueur for heritage reissues spanning a range of manufacturers. While normally not a fan of fauxtina, I think it was the right call here, not only to mimic the vintage feel, but also because it pairs remarkably well with the mellow warmth of the bronze. Any other color lume would probably have been a mistake and clashed with the case.
The hand set remains faithful to the original as well, with the distinctive arrow pointer on the minute hand. There was some worry that the hand lume would not match that of the markers, as the prototypes were mismatched. Yema, however, assured backers that they would be the same color on production pieces and, fortunately, they have been true to their word. Also making a return, is the unique shovel second hand, complete with the red dot. It makes for a fun little detail that can only be explained as one of those weird French things that’s just kind of cool.
Speaking of weird things, the Superman reissue has remained true to its roots with the resurrection of its trademark bezel lock system. I had been a little skeptical as to whether or not I would warm up to the bezel lock, having never handled one before. I viewed it as an unnecessary distraction that would only get in the way and possibly cause moisture damage if having to manipulate it around water. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the crown does not need to be unscrewed very far for it to loosen enough to allow the bezel to be easily adjusted.
On the topic of the bezel, there has been some dismay expressed at the decision to utilize a 90-click system. Some have argued that a 60- or 120-click mechanism would make more sense, yet Yema has responded that 90 clicks will give greater precision compared to 60 when aligning the zero pip to the minute hand.
Having a look at the sides of the case, one will find lugs that are much less slab-sided than the original Superman and feature drilled-through holes to allow for quick and easy strap changes. The lugs also form curvy lines that might actually be described as – dare I say – elegant? It is quite evident that when it comes to artful and expert stylistic design, Yema’s unique savoir faire is on full display.
While on the surface this description may appear as anathema within the world of utilitarian dive watches, it would be unwise to let the sophisticated lines fool you into thinking this watch is just for show. On the contrary, the Superman Heritage not only looks great, but at its core, it is also a serious tool watch.
The screw-down crown which is also in bronze, is large and easy to grip and proudly features Yema’s vintage logo. It is flanked by crown guards which extend far enough to provide ample protection.
Turning the watch over reveals the beautifully finished 316L stainless steel caseback prominently displaying the engraved Yema coat of arms at the center. The steel back features both polished and brushed surfaces, creating a visually striking contrast that makes the reverse pop almost as much as the dial side.
The caseback also pays tribute to the “Mission Maubydick” which is a project spearheaded by renowned conservation activist and expert diver, Hugues Vitry. A long-time fan of Yema watches, it was at Mr. Vitry’s urging that prompted Yema to embark on the journey to bring
the Superman Bronze to life. A portion of every watch sale goes towards supporting the project which promotes conservation efforts for whale populations in the Indian Ocean.
Also engraved on the caseback is the limited edition number out of the total 1948 created in each size, with that number being chosen to commemorate the year of Yemas founding.
On the topic of size, Yema decided to release two versions of the Superman Bronze, one at the more traditional 39mm and another slightly larger at 41mm excluding the crown. As someone possessing 7 ½-inch wrists and strongly disliking lug overhang, I opted to go with the 39mm version and was very pleased as I found the fit perfect.
The height measures in at only 13mm for both versions. This low profile allows the watch to slip comfortably under a shirt cuff, making it an attractive option for more formal dress wear, in addition to its intended sporty functionality. While I haven’t tried it paired with a suit yet, I’d imagine the watch would be equally at home in the boardroom as it would beneath the waves, thanks to its understated warm colors and the subtle cool style that doesn’t need to scream for attention.
Within 24 hours of strapping the watch to my wrist it took its first plunge and was christened in the briney tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean. Much in the same way that a new Porsche owner can’t wait to get his machine on the Autobahn to stretch its legs, the Superman just seemed eager to get its lugs wet and do what it was made to do. After a quick strap change to the included rubber tropic band, the watch was ready to go, and took to the ocean environment like a goldfish to water.
Although the quick snorkeling excursion didn’t exactly push the limits of the Superman’s capabilities, it nevertheless offered a glimpse of its aquatic prowess. Beneath the water, illuminated by the shimmering light, the dial took on an even greater depth and radiance as sun rays and shadow passed over its face. The glittering surface caused the watch to glow even more, and despite the optical distortion caused by water refraction, visibility remained excellent at all but the steepest of angles.
It should come as no surprise that the designers of such an interesting and unique watch might eschew the standard ETA or Miyota movements that have become reliable – if not commonplace – offerings in timepieces occupying this market segment. For the release of the Superman Bronze, Yema decided to go in a bit of a different direction; and they really delivered on the “different.”
Having a look beneath the caseback will reveal the MBP1000 movement, a relatively new in- house caliber designed and built by Yema’s parent company, Ambre. The automatic BMP1000 which has also found a home in the watches of Yema’s sister company, Yonger and Bresson, boasts 31 jewels, bi-directional winding, and a 45-hour power reserve. Operating at a relatively high beat rate of 28,000 A/h, the movement gives the sweep second hand a very smooth motion as the little shovel stately marches around the dial, as if to survey the entirety of its realm. The overall accuracy has been quite impressive as well, with my particular specimen running within 4/spd over the course of the week.
There has been some controversy surrounding the decision to utilize a movement with a date function in a non-date watch. This so-called “ghost date” creates two positions when pulling out the crown, the first position for setting the non-visible date and the second position for setting the time. Some owners have also reported hearing the date mechanism click while setting the time or during the normal operation of the watch. While the decision to incorporate a movement with a date function into a non-date watch hasn’t bothered me personally, I could see how it might be a source of irritation for some.
Bronze is a curious alloy. Composed primarily of copper and tin, it is also a very old discovery to say the least, with archeological examples being uncovered dating back over 7,000 years. So important was the invention of bronze and its impact on the course of human development, that an entire epoch of world history is named for it.
The alloy is created by melting copper – the main ingredient – and adding tin in a range of about 12 to 15 percent. Brass, which is a similar alloy, is created in the same way but with the addition of zinc rather than tin. It was eventually discovered that adding small amounts of other elements to bronze such as manganese, nickel or aluminium would give the alloy different characteristics. Bronze quickly became a widely sought-after and versatile material due to the ability to alter its properties by adjusting the amount of these supplemental elements. For instance, increasing the amount of aluminium created a bronze that was uniquely well suited for nautical applications and has since been used extensively for maritime purposes for many years.
Indeed, bronze is an intriguing material that only becomes more so over time. Some say that bronze doesn’t age, it only improves as it develops an oxidized surface layer also known as patina. Unlike other forms of oxidation which become catastrophically destructive along with the march of time, the patina that forms on bronze actually creates a defensive layer that protects the alloy.
Bronze patina can vary depending on the particular type and specific percentage of elements used in the overall composition of the alloy. Some bronze will develop a green-colored oxidation called “verdigris” which is similar to the patina found on the copper cladding of the Statue of Liberty. Yema has stated that the particular alloy chosen for the Superman Heritage is a marine bronze which will resist verdigris, and instead develop a thin protective layer of aluminium oxide to help ward off salt-water corrosion.
There are some who appreciate the unique oxidation that only a fine bronze can deliver, and will employ methods known as “forced patina” in order to speed up the process on their timepieces. One such method is to enclose a bronze watch in a bag with hard boiled eggs that have been cracked open. The sulphur in the eggs will react with the copper in the bronze and form copper sulfide, whereby hastening the patina process. It is also possible to forgo the eggs all together and just immerse the watch directly into sulphur powder.
Conversely, if one prefers the shiney copper-tone aspect of young bronze, the oxidation process can be reversed by applying a paste made from baking soda and lemon juice, which should remove the dull patina. There are also reports that a ketchup bath works reasonably well in order to restore the shine.
Navigating the perilous seas of heritage reissues can be a treacherous gambit at best, especially when new management takes over an existing company, or worse yet, orchestrates the resurrection of a previously-defunct, historical brand. Digging too deeply into the treasure trove of a past catalog can illicit charges of cynical opportunism or simple laziness. Fortunately for Yema, they managed to dodge these common hazards with this latest release. Like many French things, the Superman Bronze is a little quirky and a bit different than the other contemporary offerings, but it is within this uniqueness that its true charm is to be found.
It’s difficult to put a finger on it, but there is something truly special about this watch. Maybe it’s the delightful dial that is reminiscent of the deep blue ocean; or maybe it’s the soft, golden glow of the bronze that reminds you of the morning sun shining above the sea; or maybe it’s the way it compels reviewers to wax poetic over a small time-keeping machine. Yet after reflecting for some days, it becomes apparent that in reality, it is all of these elements – and more – added together just right, that combine to form a harmonious whole, much greater than the sum of its parts.
There is a long tradition of bronze being awarded for third-place finishers, but when it comes to this bronze medal, in every regard Yema has turned in a first-rate performance.
About the Author: Eric Gregoire has no commercial association with Yema and writes as a long term watch collector and occasional author on his passion.