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The Return Of An Emblematic French Watchmaker | Part I

The Return Of An Emblematic French Watchmaker | Part I

The Tales of Yema
Published by: Samuel Ng
Jun 20, 2024

The watchmaking industry extends far beyond the traditional boundaries of Switzerland. Numerous companies worldwide craft exquisite timepieces, challenging the Swiss dominance. Today, we delve into one such watchmaker, located right at the doorstep of Switzerland – France. Renowned for its art of discretion and a lifestyle rich in culinary pleasures and social gatherings, France has a heritage spanning millennia, including the production of fine wines. It's no surprise that French watchmaking reflects this dedication to quality and sophistication. I’m might be bias as this country produced fine wines for at least the past 2600 years. With that mentioned, you would have an impression on which country I’m referring to, and yes, its France. Bonne soirée.

Among France's watchmaking pioneers are venerable brands like Breguet and Cartier, rooted in medieval traditions. Yet, newer entrants like Bell & Ross, Richard Mille, and Yema have also left indelible marks on the industry. We focus here on Yema, the youthful contender born in the late forties, renowned for crafting iconic tool watches. Despite facing challenges in past decades, Yema's legacy endures, fueled by its commitment to innovation and quality.

Yema's reputation is built on exceptional timepieces that resonate with connoisseurs worldwide. The legendary Superman dive-watch from the sixties remains a standout creation, embodying Yema's blend of style and functionality. However, delving deeper into Yema's history unveils a treasure trove of innovative designs catering to diverse tastes and needs. From affordable yet genteel civilian watches to precision instruments for professionals, Yema has maintained a consistent standard of excellence. Not only in watchmaking, the brand have had incredible presence in both local and international territories through optimising its manufacturing process and distribution channels.

Bringing nostalgic watchmaking from France

Beyond watchmaking, Yema has strategically expanded its presence globally through efficient manufacturing and distribution strategies. This strategic approach has contributed significantly to the brand's enduring appeal among collectors and enthusiasts alike. In this two-part exploration, we'll trace Yema's journey from its modest beginnings to its current status as a respected player in the global watchmaking arena.

Part one of this series will delve into Yema's origins and its pioneering business model during its formative years. We'll explore how Yema’s operandi modus in the beginning, including its purpose-driven collections, reflect the brand's ethos of quality and accessibility. These unique style of developing its collections showcase Yema's mastery in creating durable yet affordable timepieces, a legacy that continues to attract collectors seeking both value and craftsmanship. We’ll end off on how the brand, like many of its neighbouring French watchmakers, met with turmoils and plunging into a tough period where Yema almost vanished from the world.

Thank God Yema brings back authentic heritage designs for watch lovers.

Stay tuned for part two, where we'll examine Yema's modern revival collections and partnerships, highlighting how the brand survived through its darkest time during the Quartz crisis era, while seamlessly blending heritage design with contemporary innovations. We'll also explore the enduring appeal of Yema's watchmaking prowess, offering several in-house calibers that few today can boast about, reinforcing its status as a timeless choice for discerning watch enthusiasts. Join us as we uncover the timeless allure of Yema Watches, a testament to French craftsmanship and ingenuity. Did I also mention that with all that, they’re still a great value produced today that we can perennially enjoy?

Watchmaking In The Blood

 The birth certificate of Henri Louis Blum, AKA Henr”y” Louis B”elmont”. (Photo Credit: Leclubyema)

Once upon a time in the enchanting city of Besançon, a legend was born. Little did the world know about the extraordinary man behind the creation of a renowned French watchmaking brand. The story unfolds on a chilly December day in 1912, when Henri Louis Blum, a skilled watchmaker following in his father's footsteps, welcomed a son into the world with his beloved wife, Berthe Gysel. They named him Henri Louis Blum, carrying forward a legacy that would soon captivate the horological world.

But this tale takes an unexpected turn as young Henri Louis Blum Jr. delved into the intricate art of watchmaking at the young age of 16 in 1927. His journey began at the esteemed National Watchmaking School in Besançon, where his passion for horology was forged with the precision of a silver medalist, graduating in 1931. Fondly known as "Le'Horlo" among fellow students, Henri Blum Jr.'s dedication to his craft was unmatched. His bond with the school grew deeper as he became an active member of the Association Amicale des Anciens Elèves (AAAE), eventually assuming the presidency until 1957.

 The school of National Watchmaking in Besançon. (Photo Credit: Leclubyema)

Upon completing his education, the young man was determined to hone his craft further. He dedicated two years to working alongside his father in their workshop, refining his skills and absorbing the intricacies of watchmaking. However, fate intervened as he was called to fulfill his mandatory military service, a rite of passage for all French males of his generation.

  A photo of young Henri when he was appointed the president of AAAE. (Photo Credit: Leclubyema)

At the age of 22, armed with a passion for horology and a sense of duty, he served as a sergeant in the tank unit, learning discipline and resilience in the face of challenges. Following his military service, he embarked on his professional journey, joining the esteemed ranks of one of France's most renowned watch factories – LIP.

LIP, short for d’Horlogerie Lipmann Frères, boasted a rich history dating back to 1893, when it first ventured into crafting clocks and watches. Henri Louis Blum found himself fortunate to commence his career in such a prestigious establishment, surrounded by seasoned craftsmen and a legacy of excellence in timekeeping.

His time at LIP marked the beginning of a transformative period, where he not only contributed to the company's legacy but also honed his expertise, laying the foundation for his future endeavors in the world of watchmaking. This chapter in his journey would shape his approach to craftsmanship and innovation, setting the stage for his eventual role in shaping the landscape of French horology.

Wartime Before Yema

Despite not assuming the role of a full-time watchmaker at the company, he made significant contributions in a different capacity. As a production organizer within the control department, his responsibilities included overseeing the assembly workshop for large watch parts. This role, which he held from the outset until 1944, marked the initial steps in his journey towards becoming the director of production for LIP factories.

During this pivotal period, his unwavering passion for the craft and his wealth of experience culminated in his elevation to a leadership role within one of France's most esteemed watch brands (or the finest at that time). Instead of pursuing formal education in entrepreneurship, he learned invaluable business acumen through hands-on experience and dedication to his career.

Liberators in Bseançon on September 1944. (Photo Credit: Leclubyema)

The forties brought tumultuous times globally, with France deeply embroiled in the throes of war. The German occupation cast a shadow of desolation over the nation, and challenges seemed insurmountable. However, amidst this adversity, Henri Blum remained steadfast in his pursuit of excellence. He navigated through the dark clouds of uncertainty, witnessing liberators in Besançon fighting tirelessly for freedom, a struggle that ultimately led to victory.

It is once again important to highlight this period of upheaval and resilience that shaped Henri Blum's character and professional journey, instilling in him the grit and determination that would define his legacy in the world of watchmaking. His ability to thrive amidst adversity and his commitment to his craft underscored his enduring passion and leadership within the industry.

The Beginning

Even the mightiest of individuals cannot halt the inexorable march of time. In 1944, Henri Blum bore witness to the liberation of Besançon, a profound moment of hope amidst tumultuous times, courtesy of the Resistance fighters. Four years later, fueled by determination and a vision for the future, he embarked on a transformative journey with a team of five young watchmakers to establish a new venture – "Yema." The name itself was discovered by a high-school student during a competition orchestrated by none other than Henri Louis Blum, resonating with youthful ingenuity and promise. Their headquarters, nestled at 3 Rue Paul Bert in the heart of Besançon's watchmaking hub, symbolized a new era in horology.

An invoice in 1960, proving the location of Yema’s factory at 3 Rue Paul Bert in Besançon. (Photo Credit: Leclubyema)

Drawing from his experiences at LIP, the bastion of French watchmaking, Henri implemented strategic production and marketing methodologies, setting Yema on a path to success from its inception. Collaborating with suppliers from both Switzerland and France ensured that Yema's timepieces boasted impeccable quality while leveraging the expertise of specialized manufacturers for crucial components like mechanical movements.

Yema's chronograph models, renowned for their precision, relied on esteemed Swiss movements such as the Valjoux 72 and 92, synonymous with reliability and accuracy. Locally sourced components, like the T18 calibers with Breguet hairsprings and signature anti-shock systems, showcased Yema's commitment to excellence. Notably, these T18 calibers were not only used by Yema but also found their way into watches produced by LIP, a testament to their superior craftsmanship.

The reliable LIP’s T18 caliber.

One remarkable achievement was Yema's adoption of the Jeambrun's 23D manual-winding caliber, crafted in the picturesque French village of Maîche in the Doubs department. These meticulously assembled movements, featuring advanced features like a glucydur screw balance and shock protection systems, were integrated into watches destined for LIP's prestigious exports to the US market. Henri Blum's technical acumen, honed during his tenure as LIP's technical director, facilitated Yema's access to these exceptional calibers, solidifying their reputation for precision and innovation.

A 17-jewel Jeambrun 23D from the fifties.

Innovation With Quality

Thanks to strategic initiatives led by Henri Blum, Yema swiftly capitalized on its watchmaking expertise and efficient assembly processes. The company actively promoted the exceptional quality of its timepieces and showcased its prowess in industrial operations, establishing a dynamic presence in the French market from the outset. Recognizing the high standards of his timepieces, Henri Blum proudly presented them in prestigious watchmaking competitions, leveraging victories to bolster Yema's reputation further.

An early advertisement of Yema’s Miniplan timepiece in 1955. (Photo Credit: Leclubyema)

One standout example of Yema's early success was the elegant Miniplan model. This "extra flat" dress watch, measuring 33mm in diameter and 7.9mm in thickness, featured a captivating dial and exquisite case-back finishing housing a reliable 21-jewel hand-winding caliber. The Miniplan's exceptional craftsmanship earned it recognition from CETEHOR (Centre Technique de l'Industrie Horlogère), an esteemed organization under the Ministry of Economy, Finance, Industry, and Research. CETEHOR's annual "star" ranking system, akin to the renowned "Poinçon de Besançon" rating, awarded the Miniplan an impressive three stars, affirming its quality among French-made timepieces.

A 1956 Yema Miniplan, look at that beautiful case-back pattern. (Photo Credit: Leclubyema)

This accolade provided Henri Blum with a powerful endorsement to showcase Yema's commitment to craftsmanship and precision. The Miniplan's success in the rankings elevated the brand's visibility and reputation throughout France, solidifying Yema's position as a leader in the realm of fine watchmaking.

SORMEL - The Pioneering Industrialisation System by Yema

The early fifties marked a turning point for Yema as its marketing efforts bore fruit, leading to a surge in demand for its timepieces. To meet the escalating orders, Yema embarked on a journey of optimization in its manufacturing and assembly processes, a testament to Henri Blum's strategic foresight. In 1953, Yema established SORMEL, a subsidiary group tasked with developing professional tools not just for Yema but also for other industries beyond watchmaking.

An early advertisement catered for watchmakers. (Photo Credit: Leclubyema)

SORMEL became instrumental in Yema's growth trajectory, comprising a team of skilled professionals, many of whom were graduates of École Nationale de l'Horlogerie (ENH) with expertise in modern manufacturing and assembly techniques. However, it was Henri Blum's visionary directives for SORMEL that truly propelled the company's success:

  1. Implementing an automated assembly line for watches.
  2. Standardizing the use of a single central second-hand caliber across men's wristwatches.
  3. Establishing a robust production capacity of 100,000 watches annually for export markets.

These strategic initiatives catapulted Yema into previously untapped markets, particularly in Northern regions. By 1954, the first wave of exports commenced, reaching destinations such as the United States, Canada, Switzerland, and even extending to China. Concurrently, Yema, as the parent brand, strategically focused on penetrating European markets, including Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Spain. This period marked a significant expansion for Yema, fueled by Henri Blum's leadership and SORMEL's contributions were pivotal in solidifying Yema's position as a global player in the watchmaking industry.

Going International

Driven by ambition and leveraging SORMEL's efficient watch assembly methods, Henri propelled Yema to national acclaim in France at an astonishing pace. This rapid rise established YEMA International as a household name, a remarkable achievement during that era. The pinnacle of recognition came when the Minister of Finance, Antoine Pinay, bestowed upon Yema the prestigious Oscar of Export with Honours. This symbolic accolade underscored Yema's exceptional quality and precision in watchmaking, earning admiration both locally and internationally.

Henry accepting the award at the 1970 Micronora International exhibition in Beasoçon. (Photo Credit: Leclubyema)

Notably, Yema's accolades didn't stop there. Eleven years later, SORMEL received a gold medal at the 1970 Micronora International exhibition in Besançon for its contributions to the Technical Label in Watchmaking, Micromechanics, and Microelectronics. This recognition further solidified Yema's reputation as an industry leader, garnering attention even from manufacturers in Switzerland, a testament to SORMEL's efficiency and innovation in assembly processes.

Some of SORMEL’s modern equipments in the new factory from 1961.

In 1959, Yema proudly unveiled its first international advertisement, emphasizing "Exactness Precision" as its hallmark. The brand's unwavering commitment to reliability, durability, and technical prowess resonated strongly in the press and among consumers.

By 1961, Yema had reached unprecedented heights, producing an estimated 300,000 pieces annually. Henri Blum's strategic approach not only optimized internal assembly and quality control but also established a robust distribution network spanning across countries. Collaborating closely with retailers and jewelers, who were the primary outlets for timepieces in brick-and-mortar stores, Yema solidified its presence and reputation as a premier watchmaking brand.

The State-Of-The-Art Factory

The new factory established in September 1961.

1961 marked a significant milestone for Yema, beyond its impressive production capacity. The inauguration of its state-of-the-art watch factory at 65-67 Rue Des Cras in Besançon was a monumental achievement, reflecting Yema's commitment to innovation and excellence. The new factory, spanning 2400 square meters, was meticulously designed to prioritize the well-being and efficiency of every worker.

The modern facility boasted cutting-edge features, including temperature-controlled environments and advanced automation setups tailored to streamline the manufacturing process. A full air conditioning system ensured stable temperatures throughout the premises, safeguarding delicate machinery and materials from fluctuations. Additionally, sophisticated air filtration systems meticulously removed even the finest dust particles, ensuring impeccable quality during production.

Some photos of how the factory looks like within, where watchmakers get a conducive environment. Like the staggered arrangement of workstation (above) and the polyester workbench in one of the sector. (below)

The factory's layout was meticulously planned, with the first floor housing an assembly line capable of producing 600 watches daily. What set this assembly line apart was its complete design and production by SORMEL, showcasing Yema's integration of innovative technologies. From customized workstations and machining placements to a seamless conveyor belt and box handling system, each element was optimized for efficiency. This was particularly noteworthy considering the era, as dive watches were just emerging in the 1960s, highlighting Yema's foresight and adaptability within the industry.

The Rise of the French Maison

A routine battery check within Yema’s new factory.

From the 1940s to the late 1980s, Yema experienced rapid sales growth fueled by its internal capabilities and robust international distribution networks. Particularly noteworthy was the period from 1960 to 1980, during which Yema achieved an average annual growth rate of 38%. This level of sustained growth was rare among watchmakers of that era, showcasing Yema's exceptional performance and market penetration.

A pivotal moment in Yema's history was its expansion into the United States market. The distribution of Yema timepieces in the land of freedom was branded under the name "Lejour." However, it's important to note that not all Lejour watches are Yema; the company also imported timepieces from other French brands like Herma. This strategic move allowed Yema to establish a strong presence in the American market while offering a diverse range of watches under different brand identities, catering to varied consumer preferences and tastes.

The Time of Honors

An interesting footnote in Henry's journey is his decision to adopt a new name. In 1966, he transitioned from Henry L. Blum to Henry L. Belmont. This change marked a significant chapter as he continued to lead Yema with renewed vigor. In 1982, Mr. Belmont gracefully passed the baton to his son, Henry John Belmont, upon his retirement. However, retirement didn't diminish his passion for watchmaking. He remained an active figure, delving into historical research and writing, contributing immensely to the industry.

Signature to proof Henry had changed his name to “Henry Louis Belmont” in 1966.

Henry-Louis Belmont can be likened to a veteran of today's watchmaking industry. In 1993, he received the prestigious Gaïa Prize in the "Historical Research" category, recognizing his profound contributions. His acclaimed publications, such as "L’Échappement à Cylinder 1720-1950," further solidified his legacy as a scholar and historian.

Henry receiving the Gaia Prize in 1993. (middle) (Photo Credit: Chauxdefonds)

The journey of Henry L. Belmont exemplifies a lifelong dedication to horology. His relentless pursuit of knowledge, from his formative years of learning and skill development to establishing Yema as one of the most esteemed watch brands, speaks volumes about his expertise and passion. Thanks to his vision and expertise, the captivating saga of Yema continues to thrive today and will undoubtedly be remembered for generations to come.

Bracing Through Rocky Road

As previously mentioned, the stewardship of Yema transitioned to Henry-John Belmont, son of the esteemed H.L. Belmont. Henry Jr. earned his credentials as a graduate from the Institut Polytechnique Nationale de Grenoble and the Institut Européen d'Administration des Affaires. Even before officially assuming leadership, Henry Jr. had been deeply involved in the company, closely following in his father's footsteps.

A photo of Henry-john Belmont himself. (Photo Credit: Speaker sheet from FIHH forum in 2010)

However, his management of Yema came to an unfortunate end before the nineties. In this segment, we delve into Yema's transition from a family-owned entity to being acquired by several conglomerates due to various circumstances. Despite facing challenges such as internal protests regarding workers' rights and wages, Yema managed to navigate through difficulties when under family ownership. However, the dynamic shifted when Yema was sold to external entities. Initially merging with the larger conglomerate known as the MATRA (Mécanique Aviation Traction) group, Yema found itself in a conglomerate primarily focused on automobiles, bicycles, aeronautics, and weaponry, which posed significant challenges. In this section, we explore the struggles Yema encountered during this uncertain period.

Despite the challenging transition, both father and son remained committed to their horological pursuits.. Well, at least to a certain extend for Junior. Henry-John Belmont briefly invested in MATRA's horology department before joining the Richemont group, where he played a pivotal role in integrating renowned watch brands like Jaeger-Lecoultre, IWC, and A. Lange & Söhne within the group.

Henry-John Belmont was involved in the early stages of the Montblanc Exo Tourbillion, which leads to this beautiful 2018 timepiece. (Photo Credit: Watchtime)

Jerome Lambert, former CEO of Montblanc, attested to his partnership with Henry-John Belmont from 1997 to 2002. In just five years, Henry Jr. significantly shaped Montblanc's development strategy and made substantial contributions to its watchmaking sector, leaving a lasting impact on Mr. Lambert himself. Following his retirement in 2014, Henry Jr. established his own marketing and industrial consulting firm, "Belmont Conseil Et Associes," continuing to share his expertise with the industry.

The Quartz Crisis

Let's rewind to the late sixties, a pivotal time when battery-powered watches were revolutionizing the industry. In 1969, Seiko, a formidable Japanese watchmaker, unveiled the groundbreaking "Astron," the world's first quartz watch. Following suit, a consortium of Swiss companies introduced their own quartz timepieces, notably the "Beta 21," in 1970. These events marked the onset of the Quartz revolution, which posed a significant challenge to traditional mechanical watches.
Yema, demonstrating its adaptability and financial strength, swiftly embraced this technological shift. Unlike many others at that time, Yema invested in high-cost development to integrate quartz technology into its watches. This strategic move underscored Yema's resilience and strategic acumen in navigating the changing landscape of the watchmaking industry.

However, despite Yema's proactive stance, the Quartz crisis had far-reaching repercussions for the entire mechanical watch industry, including prominent French watch companies. The transition to quartz technology was particularly challenging for these family-owned entities, lacking the resources to compete with global giants like Seiko.

During this tumultuous period, French watchmakers faced unprecedented challenges. In 1971, several companies, including LIP, Yema, Dodane, and Cattin, formed "Montrelec" in a bid to develop a 100% French quartz movement. LIP secured a substantial loan to sustain operations, while each brand within Montrelec focused on specific tasks, such as component production

A 1970s R33 Exachron quartz caliber by LIP. (Photo Credit: Crazywatches)

By 1973, Montrolec presented three Quartz caliber prototypes at the Basel fair, yet the project faced setbacks, leading to its discontinuation. The same year witnessed LIP's bankruptcy despite its efforts in producing French quartz movements. In contrast, Yema pivoted by collaborating with Fairchild, a global leader in digital quartz production and LED electronic devices.

Despite these strategic maneuvers, Yema underwent ownership changes in 1978 when French watch maison Jaeger acquired a 35% stake. While some viewed this as a departure from Yema's traditional ethos, Jaeger's reputation and expertise in watchmaking brought new opportunities for the brand, aligning with its commitment to quality and innovation.

The Change Of Hands

During the Quartz revolution, another significant development unfolded in the electronic industry. The French conglomerate MATRA, known for its diverse interests, entered a strategic partnership with the American technology firm Harris Corporation, forming MATRAO Harris Semiconductor (VHS) in the early eighties. This alliance had broader implications, as MATRA held a 25.5% stake in Jaeger, which in turn owned 35% of Yema. This intricate web of ownership emerged when MATRA indirectly acquired Yema through Jaeger's acquisition in 1979.

To understand this acquisition spree, we need to rewind to 1977 when the French government initiated a comprehensive restructuring plan for the watchmaking sector, coupled with the nationalization of major industrial companies. This governmental influence set the stage for conglomerates like MATRA to acquire local watch brands, culminating in the formation of an official Matra watchmaking sector in 1982.

An old advertisement of a vintage French Jaeger timepiece. (Photo Credit: Watchuseek)

In this evolving landscape, Richard Mille, initially a sales and export director at MATRA Horlogerie, played a pivotal role. Mille's journey from his marketing studies at the University of Besançon to managing export zones for Finhor and eventually becoming the export director of Compagnie Générale Horlogère (CGH) within the MATRA group showcases the dynamic changes in the industry during this period. His subsequent founding of his eponymous brand in 1999 marked a new chapter in his illustrious career.

The legend himself, Richard Mille, who was able to cross path with Yema during times of difficulty. (Photo Credit: Montredo)

So whats up with Hattori group all of a sudden? The involvement of the Hattori Group, owners of Seiko, adds another layer of complexity. Jacques Meyer, former CEO of UTINAM Besançon and later CEO of MATRA Horlogerie, navigated through these transitions. MATRA Horlogerie had a minority share in UTINAM Besançon, which was the exclusive representative of Seiko in France. This strategic alignment paved the way for indirect acquisitions and shifting ownerships within the watchmaking sector.

Yema, amidst these transformations, changed hands once again in 1988. MATRA's decision to divest its watchmaking division led to Yema's acquisition by the Hattori family, marking its integration into the Seiko Group. This shift reflected broader economic and cultural notions within the watchmaking industry, where traditional French brands faced challenges in navigating changing market dynamics and evolving leadership priorities.

The MATRA’s division results for both 1983 and 1984. (Photo Credit: Leclubyema)

Let me explain alittle further. This shift was exacerbated by MATRA's strategic decision to focus solely on non-watchmaking ventures, leading to the neglect and eventual transfer of French brands like Yema to Seiko. The new leadership at that time lacked a deep understanding of traditional watchmaking's value and heritage, unsure of how to navigate this aspect of the business. Ultimately, given the prevailing market conditions and strategic changes, it seemed that Yema found itself in an unfavorable position at an inopportune moment, contributing to its transition to Seiko ownership.

The demise of LIP during the Quartz crisis further underscored the challenges faced by traditional French watchmakers. LIP's bankruptcy marked a symbolic end to an era, highlighting the complexities of managing heritage brands amidst economic turbulence and shifting industry landscapes.

Under Hattori’s Empire

Before delving into Yema's journey within the Hattori group, it's crucial to understand the origins of Seiko's parent company, initially known for distributing watches before venturing into manufacturing. This transition paved the way for the Hattori group to acquire French brands, intending to leverage Yema as a distribution channel for Seiko movements.

Under Japanese leadership, Hattori streamlined its French watchmaking operations by establishing the Compagnie Générale Horlogère (CGH) in 1988 to oversee the distribution of Seiko, Jaz, Pulsar, Lorus, and Yema. Notably, CGH found its home within the former LIP factory premises in Besançon.

 The brands within Compagnie Générale Horlogère. (Photo Credit: Leclubyema)

The Hattori group's interest in these brands was clear: to participate in watch assembly in Europe and expand sales across European markets. This strategic move also allowed the group to regulate market shares, particularly for Seiko and Pulsar, by imposing limitations on brands like Yema, ensuring control over competition both locally and internationally.

This control became evident in 1991 when Yema's sales plummeted to 220,000 watches from the previous two million, reflecting a broader decline in French watch brands due to diminishing profits and increased redundancies within the Hattori group. Despite this, Yema retained its subsidiary status and came under the management of Mr. Toyoji Todaka in 1995.

Under Mr. Todaka's leadership, Yema aimed to reclaim its former prominence, focusing primarily on revitalizing its presence in the French market. This strategic move showcased the ongoing efforts within Hattori to navigate the complexities of the European watchmaking landscape while maintaining control over its brand portfolio and market influence.

The Richard Milles’ Touch

The man who shocked the watch industry with his brand, started his journey with Yema. (Photo Credit: Ablogtowatch)

I’d like to touch on a fascinating period when Mr. Richard Mille crossed paths with Yema. During his time as Matra's export director, leveraging his expertise, he left a significant mark on some of Yema's projects in the 1980s.

Known for his avant-garde timepieces renowned for peerless quality and futuristic design, Mr. Mille's watches are true masterpieces that defy conventions and connect with the future. This ethos seems to have roots in his early days at Matra.

While overseeing the watch brands under Matra, Mr. Mille noticed Yema's astronaut campaign initiated by H.J. Belmont. This campaign showcased extreme and futuristic developments, inspiring Mr. Mille to introduce even more watches tailored for extreme adventures.

French ecologist Nicolas Hulot. (Photo Credit: Politico)

One notable project was a watch created for Nicolas Hulot, a prominent ecological activist known for daring expeditions. Mr. Mille's collaboration with Hulot sparked the development of a series of Yema timepieces designed for adventurers, including renowned explorer Jean-Louis Etienne, who achieved the feat of reaching the North Pole alone in 1986.

Left: Yema North Pole, Right: Yema Bi Pole. (Photo Credit: Leclubyema)

The Yema North Pole and Bi Pole watches, specifically crafted for Etienne, featured unique 24-hour movements suitable for extreme conditions near the poles. Made from titanium, these watches were robust and ergonomic, reflecting Mr. Mille's vision for durable and functional timepieces.

Mr John-Louis Etienne. (Photo Credit: Polarpod)

Another significant creation by Yema during this period was the Spationaute series, designed for French astronauts to wear during space missions. These watches, equipped with robust quartz movements and velcro straps for space suits, showcased Yema's innovative prowess even in the challenging realm of space exploration.

Left: Yema Spationaute I, Right: Yema Spationaute II. (Photo Credit: Leclubyema)

Richard Mille's collaboration with Yema during his time at Matra highlights his innovative spirit and commitment to creating avant-garde watches. His contributions to Yema's projects during a challenging era for French watchmaking underscore his foresight and dedication to pushing the boundaries of watch design long before establishing his eponymous brand.

Part 2

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