f there is one company to have experienced the highs and lows of the French watch industry first-hand, that company is Yema. Established in Besançon in 1948, at the height of France’s post-war reconstruction, it was the country’s largest watch exporter throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Henry-John Belmont, son of the brand’s founder (and future CEO of Jaeger-LeCoultre), recalls how “in just a few years, a generation of industrialists from the Franche-Comté and Savoie regions succeeded in relaunching the production of complete watches, case and movement, (…) at a quality and price that could rival Switzerland.”
All these efforts would be dashed by the advent of quartz. As Henry-John Belmont explains, “what had been a dream suddenly became a challenge, as the quartz watch was soon competing with mechanical watches in price, then a nightmare when these industrialists realised they had no access to this technology at these price levels.”
As is often the case in France, the government intervened. Agreements were reached, mergers were negotiated, groups formed, but the ultimate outcome was that a large number of French brands were taken over by Hattori (Seiko).
- Yema 2000 movement: the in-house YEMA2000 and YEMA3000 calibres are the most recent evolution of the original MBP1000 calibre of 2011. Several components have been improved, resulting in major gains in precision and reliability. Thanks to a design that combines manufacturing simplicity with efficiency, these Standard Grade In-house Calibres are very competitively priced.
Without going into the whys and wherefores, Hattori threw in the towel and by the early 2000s Yema had regained its independence, but would struggle to overcome the numerous difficulties that lay ahead. In 2008, just as it seemed the company had reached the end of the road, it was taken over by Ambre (Yonger & Bresson, Catena). The group, owned by the Bôle family, intended to position Yema as “an independent watch brand, with workshops and watchmakers in France, and its own in-house mechanical movement.”
A new generation
In 2011 the first Yema watches equipped with the MBP1000 automatic calibre were launched (the movement was developed by Pascal Bôle for Ambre hence MBP, short for Mouvement Bôle Pascal). This “competitively priced standard grade” movement was assembled from French, Swiss and Asian components. More than 250,000 units were sold in the space of a decade.
A major turning point came seven years later, in 2018, when Christopher Bôle, representing the third generation of the Bôle family, took the helm and set about redefining the brand’s strategy and positioning. A true Millennial, he brought an eye for vintage design and revived several iconic models from the brand’s heyday. He was also acutely aware of the need to launch mechanical movements that would cement the brand’s status as an independent manufacture.
- Olivier Mory, designer of Yema’s micro-rotor calibre, observes the reactions of quality assurance and technical manager Nicolas Bailly.
The second generation of in-house movements, YEMA 2000 and YEMA 3000, followed in 2020. They introduced “fundamental gains in precision and reliability.”
Both these calibres are essentially derivatives of the MBP1000. Accuracy has been upgraded thanks to a modified index that enables easier and more precise adjustment of the balance and spring in all positions, as well as improved shock-resistance. The reversing wheels have been modified for improved bidirectional winding. Reduced tolerances facilitate a smoother, more precise date jump. A GMT complication showing a second time zone by an independent hand has also been added. Around 30,000 watches a year are equipped with the YEMA 2000 and YEMA 3000, at an average price of €1,200 to €1,300. Volumes are too low for the movements to be produced entirely in-house and stay competitive, which is why Yema works with French, Swiss and Asian component suppliers. However, all the research, development, design, prototyping and final assembly are done by Yema in its premises.
Next step: a fully in-house movement
Yema now has its sights set higher, on an authentic in-house movement, which means gradually insourcing the vast majority of component production.
To this end, the brand has injected €2 million into extending and modernising its workshops and production lines, and purchasing new CNC machines. The company has also recruited additional staff for its R&D division, including several independents. Among them are Patrick Augereau, a watchmaker-constructor who during his 19 years with Audemars Piguet developed the lubricant-free escapement that has equipped AP calibres since 2006, and the brilliant Olivier Mory (you can read more about him in Europa Star 1/23). This “partner watchmaker”, who brings solid industrial experience gained from his time at Sellita, is behind the Calibre Manufacture Morteau CMM.20.
Unveiled at end 2022, Calibre CMM.20 went into production this year. “This movement is the first stage in Yema’s strategic plan to become a vertically integrated manufacture and retain our independence,” we were told. With the exception of the regulating organ, every component is manufactured “by our teams in our workshops in Morteau.”
An essential specification of this movement is winding by a monobloc micro-rotor, made from a high-density tungsten alloy which provides the necessary weight for optimal winding efficiency, even in this small volume. This results in a power reserve upwards of 60 hours. The balance wheel is made from Glucydur, a non-magnetic alloy with a low thermal expansion coefficient. Glucydur also provides a high level of resistance to corrosion, magnetic fields and deformation, with excellent dimensional stability. The movement’s “Franco-Swiss” performance guarantees precision of -3/+7 seconds per day.
- The new CMM.20 micro-rotor calibre has a highly contemporary execution that enhances its geometric beauty and architectural appeal.
This three-hand calibre boasts a contemporary architecture with a blue, green or black ALD (Atomic Layer Deposition) coating. Ultra-thin, it measures 3.7mm high (26% thinner than the ETA 2824).
“This micro-rotor calibre represents an important step towards having our own, independent movement supply and gives us additional credibility, especially as customers are more and more interested in products that are Made in France. At this stage it is 80% French and 20% Swiss. All our partners and suppliers are based within a 72-kilometre radius of Morteau. The Arc Jurassien is increasingly interconnected and forms a single watchmaking territory on both sides of the Franco-Swiss border,” say Pascal and Christopher Bôle, adding that “the CMM.20 is also a critical step in our move upmarket.”
As of this year, the CMM.20 will equip selected Yema watches, including the Yema Wristmaster Traveller Micro-Rotor Limited Edition, and is available for purchase by third-party brands. After the highs and lows, Yema is making a fresh start.
THE CMM.10 - A NEW AUTOMATIC IN 2024
Leveraging the manufacturing and production methods implemented for the CMM.20 micro-rotor, the upcoming 3-hands Manufacture Calibre CMM.10 features higher precision, better shock resistance and 70+ hours power reserve, ensuring stable and accurate timekeeping. The first series are expected to roll out as early as the first quarter of 2024.