In 2020 and 2021, digital display, retro-chic watches are seen in serious moments. In this visit to the Watchtime archives, we take a look back at one of these designs via Digidisc and LED models from French watchmaker Yema.
As the demand for more unique watches increases, so does the demand for digital watches. In the luxury sector, this demand has been evident for some time, with the king of mechanical digital timepieces, A. Lange & Söhne’s Zeitwerk, representing perhaps the highest level. In recent years, this trend has morphed into a neo-vintage influence, especially in the $1,000 price range. Among some recent releases, we recall last year’s Hamilton PSR, the 1972 Pulsar, and shortly before that the Bulova Computron LED based on another 1970s model of the same name.
Today we take a look at two new members of that fold from the French watchmaker bud: Mechanical DigidiscAnd quartz-powered LED. The last time we covered Yema was the release of its Superman Heritage 63 Limited Edition, which we covered late last year. Now we are going to introduce these two models in 2020 and place these digital daily-wearers widely in the competitive market.
Starting with the DigiDisc, we find that it has a 36-mm steel case with a brushed top finish and polished sides. The shape of the model is unique and retro-looking, with a rectangular case (excluding the caseback) featuring nine individual facets. The shape of the watch is surprisingly comfortable on the wrist, perfectly adjusted to its bracelet, and only rises to a thickness of 10.65mm. To its right is one of two accents, the signature crown at 3 o’clock, which sits firmly against the case and helps give the model 100 meters of water resistance. The other accent is a small carved Yema “Y” centered on the lower part of the upper part.
The watch is secured to the wrist by the aforementioned steel bracelet, which attaches to the case’s 24-mm hood lugs. Produced in Yema’s “retro-futurist” style, the bracelet has an outer surface made up of single links, but a closer look at its flip side reveals a more intricate, overlapping structure. An adjustable sliding clasp bracelet is generally very comfortable and light to size, but can pull a hair or two if you’re not careful. In terms of its quality, it feels similar to a similar bracelet that Timex produced for its Q Timex line (another product of the ’70s); It adds value to the watch for its price, but is unlikely to garner much praise on its own merits.
The unique digital display of the dial takes direct influence from the 1970s watch launched by Yema, which also featured a revolving disc. The dial is very small, protected by a small flat sapphire crystal, and takes up only about a third of the space at the top of the watch. The dial display is available in black — on our review model — or an alternate brown colorway (below); Both have a slight stripping effect, but with the black model, at least, it’s harder to spot without some effort to find the effect.
The dial’s configuration is relatively straightforward, with a printed white YEMA logo on its right side and a parallel rotating double disc display displaying the passing hours and minutes. Also worth noting is that the DigiDisc tells the time through a semi-digital process, rather than the traditional digital “jumping” process you’d see in an old-fashioned alarm clock, for example, that varies gradually in rotation.
Powering the DigiDisc is YEMA’s second generation, in-house caliber YEMA2000. The automatic mechanism has a 42-hour power reserve and a daily rate of accuracy of +/-10 seconds per day and a maximum fluctuation rate of +/-25 seconds per day. While these specs may seem somewhat modest, the 28,800-vph movement is important for its accuracy and cost effectiveness. This is evident when we place the movement in a specially modified case for Digidisc’s unique time display, offering the wearer a seamless and gradual time to observe in a semi-digital style.
Now moving on to the quartz-powered Yema LED watch, we see a re-release of a model released during the 1970s during the digital LED craze of that decade. Like its mechanical sibling, it has a uniquely shaped steel case, is water resistant to 100 meters, and is available in traditional steel (above) or gold-colored steel (below). Like the DigiDisc, the LED has both a brushed and polished finish on its (at least) eleven facets, but it’s slightly larger at 37.5mm in diameter and slightly thinner at 10.5mm. Like the Digidisc, the watch fits comfortably on the wrist even after extended, again delicately secured by a single-link brushed steel bracelet.
In addition to its unique shape, the case features exposed square-style 20-mm lugs that connect to its bracelet, the Yema logo engraved at the bottom of the top, and two pushers on its right side. The top pusher is used to display and cycle through the time, date and seconds, and the bottom pusher is used to adjust each of these.
The face of the watch consists mostly of a flat mineral crystal that protects the surface, the dark rectangular middle section houses the LED display, and the red outer section provides some color and contrast. As mentioned, the time display is activated by the right pusher, each press activating the LED lights for about 3 seconds. This functionality hearkens back to the retro style of the original LED watches, which had to work hard to save energy. However, this limitation makes telling the time at a quick glance at the wrist somewhat impractical. Additionally, while not a problem for everyday use, photographing a display of time is a tricky endeavor, with three seconds being a very short window to focus, focus, and shoot (see below for a failed attempt to capture it). Although uncomfortable at times, the show is quite charming and can be quickly enjoyed for its “retro-futuristic” appeal.
Powering the intriguing model is a battery-powered LED-quartz movement whose details are limited. The caliber is protected behind Yema’s now familiar screw-down caseback engraved with the brand’s historical emblem.
Like almost all digital watches released as part of the vintage-inspired trend, both the new Yema LED and Digidisc are interesting novelties ready to join an existing collection, rather than being marketed as long-term, everyday wear.
With that, their degrees of appeal are very different. LED is a fun, but occasionally uncomfortable timepiece. Its “pros” include its low cost and unique case shape that offers a similar style to other LED retro-type watches currently on the market. Its “cons” include the aforementioned short-lived display, making it a very niche piece whose charms appeal to a very specific type of collector.
For many enthusiasts, Digidisc offers more with fewer drawbacks. Between its unique case shape, extremely comfortable design, quick-to-read time display, and solid, in-house movement, the watch is overall a very interesting and attractive contender, a solid sports watch for the right wearer. Although its versatility is naturally limited by its unusual design, it has the makings of a potential cult classic.
Taken together, the two new models from Yema certainly draw comparisons to similar offerings from Bulova and Hamilton (above and below, respectively). It remains to be seen if they are good enough to attract attention from these two big brands and even give them a run for their money in the category, but the stage is set.
Price and Availability
Both Yema Digidisc and Yema LED are now available directly from Yema and through some authorized retailers. The Digidisc currently retails for $590 in black and brown-dial color options, but the LED is slightly higher at $249 for the steel colorway and $279 for the gold-tone colorway.
To know more and to inquire for purchase, visit Yema’s website, Here.