French-based watchmaker Yema’s latest chronograph is a limited edition timepiece that has an alluring tie-in to a racing comic book from the 1950s.
Yema was founded in 1948 by Henry Louis Belmont in Besançon, France. Belmont was a French watchmaker who finished top of his class at the National Watchmaking School Besancon in 1931 and reportedly came up with the name as part of a school project. The company was eventually purchased by Seiko in 1988. Seiko sold the company back to a French owner, Louis Eric Beckensteiner, in 2004. In 2009 Yema was acquired by the French watchmaker group Montres Ambre based in Morteau.
Following the acquisition by Montres Ambre, Yema began producing its own mechanical watch calibers, at the company’s factory in Morteau, France. Yema also uses ETA, Sellita, Miyota, and Seiko calibers. Considering the relatively low price — the in-house equipped Yema watches are closer to a few grand — the Seiko mecha-quartz hybrid chronograph movement powers this watch is a reasonable compromise.
Rallygraf and Michel Vaillant comic
The Rallygraf chronograph does not pre-date the comic book but the first watch using the moniker was produced less than a decade later, in 1966. The Rallygraf was designed for the “world of car racing” and Formula 1 driver Mario Andretti even wore one. Fast forward to today, and Yema has partnered with Michel Vaillant, the main character of the eponymous French comics series created in 1957, who will wear this exclusive Rallygraf chronograph in the upcoming race-themed comic book “Pikes Peak” that will be released on October 15th, 2021.
One of the most intriguing elements of this special Rallygraf chronograph is the unique shape of the dual sub-dials — which are inspired by the V-shaped front bumper from Michel Vaillant’s first racing car featured in the historic “Le Grand Défi” comic book released in 1959. On the left with a short red arrow-shaped hand is the 60-minute chronograph counter and on the right is a 24 indicator (synced with the main time and not able to keep a second-time zone). Both sub-dials connect together at the bottom, just like the racing car. Yema has added a stamped vertical motif which provides texture in addition to the blue and red pop of the dials and hands.
Luminous pencil-shaped steel hands indicate the hours and minutes and there are no seconds and small second indications. The 60-minutes chronograph is accurate down to 1/5th of a second when used with the red-tipped center seconds hand and the outermost, white printed chapter ring. Just inside that ring is a white printed minutes ring. Applied steel luminous indices mark the hours, with a longer marker at 12, and no marker at 6, with a date aperture instead.
Underneath the hood of this racing chronograph is a Seiko VK64 meca-quartz, which is a hybrid of a mechanical and quartz caliber. This is not a bad compromise when you consider how good the price is, although should France be prominently marked on the dial be reserved for the in-house French caliber equipped timepieces?
Seiko’s VK64 meca-quartz caliber measures 29 mm x 5.100 mm and has a battery-powered quartz oscillator, with a chronograph module that’s mechanical. The hybrid configuration may not be a connoisseur’s dream come true but it offers the high accuracy of quartz, with the feel of a traditional mechanical watch for the chronograph. I can confirm when you press the pushers it feels like a mechanical chronograph, which is cool. All while keeping accurate time — with no need to wind it ever — for up to three years per battery. With this movement configuration the hours, minutes, and central chronograph seconds are displayed in the center, the chronograph minutes on the left subdial, a 24-hour indicator on the right subdial, and the date at 6 o’clock. The movement measures 29 mm x 5.10 mm and is enclosed behind a screw-in stainless steel caseback.
The Yema Rallygraf Michel Vaillant limited edition officially features a 39 mm stainless steel case, however, after numerous measurements, it’s actually closer to 38.75 mm based on our tests. Otherwise, all of the other measurements we found on Yema’s site match up with what we observed. The case is 13.10 mm thick and this is inclusive of the 2 mm domed K1 mineral crystal.
A fixed stainless steel bezel with a matte brushed surface — reminiscent of a Daytona bezel — surrounds the dial with an engraved tachymeter scale filled with black paint for high visibility. The middle case, lugs, crown, pushers, buckle, caseback, and vertical sides of the bezel have all been given a mirror-polished finish.
The stainless steel screw-in caseback has been embossed with a Michel Vaillant logo, via a hydraulic press, and given an attractive contrasting polished and brushed finish. The crown is non-locking and features Yema’s “Y” emblem embossed on the end. The Yema Rallygraf has a depth rating of 100 meters.
On The Wrist
On my wrist, which is 7″ at the time of this review, I find the Rallygraf to wear well. I tend to prefer 40 mm to 42 mm chronographs so 38 mm to 39 mm is a bit smaller than I usually like but this watch has a good thickness and a lug-to-lug of just 48 mm so it fits and wears very well. And will on much smaller wrists than mine as well. With the perforated black leather Rallye racing strap, on a pin buckle, I found the watch — which weighs just 65 grams — to wear incredibly well. Also, considering the 13.10 mm height, the watch slips under a dress shirt cuff easily, similar to how a dress watch wears, although not quite that thin.
The Panda-like blue-on-white dial, with red highlights, is quite attractive. The racing comic book inspiration for the sub-dials is appealing to me, although the counter shape slightly affects the legibility of the 60-minute chronograph counter. That said, it’s nice to have a 60-minute counter as opposed to just 30-minutes, which is often seen with mechanical chronographs.
At this price, and considering the cool comic book collaboration, racing history, and aesthetics, this is a great deal. Even if you prefer mechanical watches, it’s still nice to own quartz watches that can keep great time with no need to wind the watch day-to-day. Plus, this looks fantastic and offers the accuracy of quartz with the feel of a mechanical chronograph.
The retail price is $399.
Yema Rallygraf Michel Vaillant
Total Weight: 65 grams (on leather strap)
Case Diameter: 38.75 mm
Case Thickness: 13.10 mm
Lug-to-Lug: 48 mm
Lug Width: 20 mm
Crown Diameter: 6.0 mm
Glass: K1 hardened mineral crystal, domed (2 mm thick)
Movement: Seiko VK64 Mechanical-Quartz hybrid
Depth Rating: 100 meters