Yema Navygraf Marine Nationale GMT Review: For the Love of (relatively) Affordable Design
by Raman Kalra
Raman Kalra is the founder of The Watch Muse blog and has kindly agreed to share some of his articles with us here on Quill & Pad.
If you have only recently heard of Yema, you are forgiven. If this is the first time you are coming across the brand, welcome to a French microbrand with a wealth of history behind its name, producing design-orientated watches at relatively affordable prices.
Yema has caught my attention in the past few years as their designs have progressed. There has been a clear shift to a Neo-vintage style, and by doing so, they are appealing to a broader audience and gaining new attention.
The market has evolved where there are more people than ever interested in wristwatches and with that, there is both more demand and supply coming from smaller brands. The options are becoming wider and as enthusiasts, we have never had the level of choice we have now.
I have to admit, it was the one that really caught my eye given the MN association, color palette, and attractive proportions. It stands out in the lineup, especially as some of their other designs are more reserved in comparison.
So, does the Navygraf Marine Nationale GMT live up to the pictures and design?
I have just spent nearly a month with the watch and will take you through the various aspects I have experienced, both positive and negative. Hopefully, this will help you decide whether or not it is right for you!
Who is Yema?
When reviewing watches from smaller brands, I always think it is first worth touching on who the brand is. It helps to set the tone and can explain how and why the end products are the way they are.
Yema is not a new name by any means: it was founded in 1948. Since then they have formed a rich history, producing their first diver series, the Superman, in 1963.
The Superman featured an impressive 300m water resistance, which was more than the Rolex Submariner, and it had a unique bezel lock. This was followed by their Yachtingraf and Rallygraf in 1966. The Yachtingraf was a unique-looking watch, designed for sailors as the name suggests.
The watches featured a yachting subdial in red, white and blue, and slightly later versions found at the end of 1969 onwards were known as “Régatte”. This model replaced the yachting subdial and added a Regatta-countdown function.
The Rallygraf, on the other hand, was a bi-compax chronograph that was once found on the wrist of Mario Andretti. Consequently, these launches led to the broader success of Yema, and it become the leading exporter of watches in France at the time.
The achievements didn’t stop there and slowly they became more engrained into culture. Namely, Yema produced the Spationaute 1 and it was this model that went to space on the wrist of French astronaut Jean-Loup Chrêtien in 1982.
Finally, Yema was also found on the wrist of explorer Jean-Louis Etienne, who completed a solo trip across the North Pole in 1986 – the first person to do so.
Yema did have multiple changes in ownership, but the most recent has certainly seen the brand rediscover its French roots and resurrected in a loud way. It started with the development of its own in-house movement in 2011, the caliber MBP1000.
The movements, as highlighted by the brand, are designed, developed and assembled in Morteau, France where they are based.
Beyond producing their own in-house movement, which since has received updates beyond the MBP1000, they have seen a rise in awareness and recognition given some of their designs.
The Urban Traveller is a great example – a stainless steel, integrated bracelet sports watch that managed to cater to the broader demand seen for these styles in recent years.
The focus for the brand now seems to be its in-house movements and neo-vintage designs, which take a good dose of inspiration from its back catalog. Given the longevity of the brand name, you could argue that it is one of the oldest microbrands around.
The Navygraf is one of their diver options (alongside the Superman), and this particular model is in association with the Marine Nationale (MN). There is another time-only MN Navygraf offered by Yema, but this one here has a GMT function and a bi-directional rotating bezel.
The unboxing experience is the first step into owning a new watch. Whether we like to admit it or not, spending four figures and more on a watch can be considered a luxury when the time is so easily accessible to all of us.
You may have seen me start other watch reviews with this aspect before, but I truly believe that it gives you a first impression, especially when many watches are now bought through online channels.
Yema has taken a much more functional approach when it comes to the box and packaging around the Navygraf. The box should be described and thought of as a travel case more than anything else. You are greeted with a navy blue and white, Yema-branded, case.
The first impression is a touch underwhelming, especially when I compare it to the Christopher Ward packaging I recently experienced and even the Tissot PRX.
Opening it up, you are presented with the watch on one side and the warranty card on the other. The inside is well laid out, and there are some nice touches such as the bands that hold the watch and warranty card in place.
Overall, the quality feels good for a travel case, but as an unboxing, I would hope for slightly more when the watch costs RRP $1,349. Having done some research, it looks as though the box can vary depending on the model you purchase so this is a specific impression and your experience may differ.
I could stop there, but the longer I have been with the Navygraf, the more my impressions of the packaging have changed. It comes back to the idea of functionality. Yes, the Christopher Ward box completely exceeded my expectations; however, it was hefty and frankly, unusable.
The Yema travel case here is light, solid and would allow you to carry your watch with you as you travel. If that isn’t for you, then you will at least be able to store it without much thinking.
It is a similar approach to Nomos. Depending on what is important to you, it could be great, leave you feeling like my first impressions.
Moving on to the watch itself, and in person, it is an extremely attractive design that lives up to online marketing photography.
The first thing to hit you is just how great the colors are. Obviously, blue, white and a hint of deep yellow would always work together, but the shades chosen are truly a delight together.
The blue is more of a faded navy, the yellow has a hint of orange, and the white is similar to the navy. It is a perfect point for me to highlight that the white, even on the bezel, is all lumed, so when catching this watch in a dark area, it really does come alive! When focusing on the dial, the indices are applied and, in my opinion, well-designed.
I find the triangle and rectangle 12/6/9 indices unique and are a nice nod to the Yema watches of the past. The proportions are good and as they are raised, they catch the light well.
Then the hands. The second hand and GMT hand are a striking dark yellow and probably my favorite aspect of the Navygraf.
They are both a good length, reaching all the way to the minute track, but the GMT hand stands out to me. It is a ghosted GMT hand – the hand color matches the navy blue of the dial and only the yellow arrow is visible.
It is very well done and disappears against the dial. The arrow is hollow, again another nice aspect in my eyes as it allows the indices to be visible at all times, especially important for a dive watch, and brings a sense of delicacy.
You may have noticed that I had not mentioned the hour and minute hands yet. That is because they aren’t on the same level. They are flat, slightly short and to be honest, I would expect to find them on much more affordable watches.
In my opinion, hand design and quality are one of the areas that can be used as an indicator of overall quality, and here they are not as strong as the second and GMT hand.
Finally, you find a date window at 3 o’clock and text on the dial, nicely spaced under the 12 o’clock and above the 6 o’clock position. All of this can be seen through a double-domed sapphire crystal that brings a good amount of charm to the Navygraf. By being domed, it builds on the Neo-vintage aesthetic and catches the light nicely.
The sapphire crystal dome is very pronounced, and it will come down to your taste on whether this is something you like or not. For me, the dome is a good addition but given the extent of the dome, it does remove some legibility as the outer edge is distorted, namely the date.
My impressions of the dial are very good, and this is a very well-designed watch. Stating the obvious, it makes this watch. There are some watches that are defined by good case or bracelet design, or just finishing in general, but with the Navygraf, the dial is really the driving force.
Case and Bracelet
Moving on to the case and bracelet, this is where my feelings become a bit more mixed.
Starting with the positives: the case dimensions are great and it shows they are listening to what watch enthusiasts are asking for. Here we have a GMT dive watch that is capable of 300m water resistance (990ft as stated on the dial) in a 38.5mm diameter case that is only 12mm thick (excluding the double-domed sapphire crystal) and has a lug width of 19mm.
On paper, these dimensions are great and all I could ask for. The case has a nice design to it and with its colors, the bi-directional GMT bezel adds to that.
The bezel action is good – I can’t say it is the best, but I have nothing negative to say about it.
The case has a curved side appearance as the case blends into the downward-sloping lugs. There are beveled edges along the extent of the case although, on the whole, the finishing is brushed stainless steel, creating a real tool watch vibe.
It gives you a lot of confidence in wearing the watch as it does not feel overly delicate.
There is a stamped case back featuring the Marine Nationale branding and logo that feels well executed for the price point. The screw-down crown receives the same Marine Nationale logo treatment.
What you can’t see in the pictures is that the watch has a very good weight to it. It feels solid and builds on the idea that you can wear it with confidence no matter what the activity.
The same goes for the bracelet. It is an inoffensive, brushed design that will work well for most and has a good amount of weight to it.
On the other side, however, there are some areas that I feel could use some refinement. The case has sharp edges, and this is noticeable when you are using the crown. The crown is challenging to use and the edges are apparent when you are screwing it either in or out.
Even though the bracelet has a good weight to it, the clasp lets it down. It is a stamped clasp and does not live up to the rest of the watch. I just would expect more for the price point. It is stiff to use and the flat design looks as though it does not belong on a watch that sells for over $1000.
The silver lining here is that this watch will look great on a variety of straps and Yema does include a Marine Nationale parachute single-press strap in the box.
The final point to make is that despite the case having a 12mm thickness, the architecture of the case makes the watch feel slightly thicker than that.
What do I mean by this? The watch sits quite tall on the wrist as the center of gravity sits high up. To put it simply, the mid-case and crown are closer to your wrist and a lot of the thickness is made up by the bezel and the domed sapphire.
This will come down to your tastes whether you prefer this style or not. It definitely plays into the Neo-vintage style, but I wanted to highlight it as it is one of those differences between case measurements and the feeling on the wrist.
As you look deeper into Yema, you will find that their in-house movements are something they are proud of and want to highlight.
Yema has two types of calibers – standard grade and manufacture grade. The Navygraf MN GMT uses the standard grade Yema 3000, which is an updated version of the MBP1000 released in 2011.
The updates are seen across several components to improve on aspects such as accuracy and durability, for example, the hairspring regulator and calendar driving wheel among others. Their focus with the standard calibers is on simplicity and efficiency, which is an effort to keep prices more affordable.
There is some mixed information out there online on whether this is all based on the ETA 2893 architecture, and even if it is, I don’t see why there is any problem with that.
When it comes to the specs of the movement, it has a power reserve of 42 hours, an accuracy of +10/-10 seconds a day and 29 jewels, beating at 4Hz.
The specs are good and will be more than enough for the majority. When it comes to accuracy, I appreciate movements, but I am not one that measures the performance down to a second. In that sense, for the average consumer, it should and will perform as expected.
While researching YEMA, I noticed several comments on watches not performing up to expectations and needing to be serviced or replaced, however, during my time with the watch, I did not notice any obvious issues.
My experience has only been limited to around a month, but I want to provide an opposing point of view. I would hope the brand is able to solve any issues without delay.
My experience doesn’t suggest any reason why it wouldn’t, even if there does seem to be a few quality control issues when reading forums.I commend Yema for putting the effort into producing their movements.
Regardless of whether you can get better specs from the more mass-market movement produces, I like when brands put the effort in and it provides a level of emotion into the product you are buying. We will touch on this more below.
Is it worth considering?
The main question is whether the Yema Navygraf MN GMT is worth considering. To provide an immediate answer, yes. However, I want to break down why and who this watch might be for by using my emotions towards it.
The Navygraf has been a watch that has surprised me. There has been a shift of opinion as I have come to know the watch and experience it on a daily basis. It has been a journey and one that I was not expecting. That feeling of first seeing the dial and design, which lived up to expectations.
There are some areas where I would want more such as the case refinement and clasp.
Finally, I am coming to appreciate the Navygraf in a way that I could not have imagined. The more I wore the watch, the more positive I became towards it. This was all driven by its charm and personality, and that is key with this particular Yema.
The dial colors are a big driver behind this. It manages to have a modern feel with the splash of yellow and at the same time, when wearing it on the wrist, it feels as though the watch has been around for a long time.
The slightly faded colors help with this, but without trying to look like a homage watch it brings an emotional feeling that it really is something from the past.
Even those areas where there is still room for improvement such as the slightly sharper case edges or slight bracelet rattle added to this. Then there is the in-house caliber. Knowing that in Morteau, France, there is a smaller brand that is focusing on producing these affordable movements adds to the emotional factor.
It is not a large corporation. It is a smaller brand that is trying to do things on its own and, more recently, with the introduction of the micro-rotor manufacture caliber, even push forward. The whole watch has a sense of honesty about it, and I have come to appreciate it.
The next question I ask myself is whether it is worth the asking price of $1,349. I am torn here, as for that price, there is some great competition. You have the likes of Tissot or Christopher Ward, which positively surprised me more than I expected.
You can also consider Nomos, which provides great value for money given their refinement and quality. It is a tough market to be in and the Navygraf does not go above and beyond its price like those other mentioned brands. It does just enough to justify the price point.
There are two points to remember: firstly, there is the possibility of discounts and loyalty rewards (new customers get 10% off), and secondly, the price has to include a portion to help fund their R&D and in-house goals.
Now, as I have mentioned in this article, there is room for improvement. If you want a watch that is very well designed and full of personality, albeit rough around the edges, it could be for you.
On the other hand, if you are the type of person who looks for perfection, I think the Yema might leave you wanting more, but it shouldn’t stop you from considering it.
The Yema Navygraf MN GMT is one of the more recent launches from the brand. With a striking design and perfect dimensions on paper, I was keen to see whether the watch lives up to expectations. My experience with the watch has been a journey, to say the least.
I have had mixed emotions towards the Navygraf that ranged from wanting more in certain areas (case refinement, bracelet and unboxing) but also finding positives I never expected.
Over my time with it, the Navygraf has shown me its personality and I have discovered small charms that weren’t obvious on first impressions.
It has left me with a split opinion as I believe this watch won’t be for everyone. Those who look for perfection will want to look elsewhere. However, for those that are looking for just a great design, personality and honesty, this watch could be for you.
For more information, please visit https://en.Yema.com/products/Yema-navygraf-marine-nationale-gmt-ynav23mn
Quick facts Yema Navygraf Marine Nationale GMT
Indications: hours, minutes, seconds, date, GMT
Case: vertical brushed 316L stainless steel, bi-directional bezel with 24-hour GMT markers, screw-in crown
Dimensions: 38.5mm diameter x 12mm high
Movement: Automatic in-house caliber Yema3000
Power reserve: 42 hours
Water resistance: 300 meters
Strap/buckle: stainless steel bracelet, Nato strap, FKM rubber strap, diver’s extension folding clasp
You can read more articles by Raman Kalra at www.thewatchmuse.com.
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