#TBT French Yema Navygraf II Low-key gorgeous divers' watch from late 70’s by Tomas Rosputinsky March 05, 2020 MIN READ #TBT French Yema Navygraf II
The reputedly indestructible and impenetrable Yema Navygraf II has a unique bezel sliding system that won my heart instantly.
When I say Yema, the famous Superman Diver comes to mind for most vintage watch collectors. Mike reviewed the 1960’s Superman with a unique bezel locking mechanism for #TBT a few years ago. We also covered last year’s Yema Superman Heritage Bronze re-edition during its successful Kickstarter campaign. Recently, I ran into another Yema diver watch. It is still flying under the radar, but I dare say it is at least as astonishing as the Yema Superman. If not a bit more. Meet the Yema Navygraf II.
Navygraf II is my French Ploprof
If the Yema Navygraf II were a few sizes bigger in diameter, it would be unwearable for me. But it sports a 38mm bezel, which gets the green light from my wrist. With two huge steel walls built instead of four lugs, the Navygraf II looks like a smaller version of Omega Seamaster Ploprof, only rotated 90 degrees to one side. I think my self-esteem and ego haven’t grown to the Ploprof dimensions yet and sadly while wearing it, I would feel like I just robbed a hardware store.
If I’d seen the Yema Navygraf II for the first time in pictures only, I wouldn’t have gone for it. To put it gently, it looks more like a project watch or as if the design team took an ill-timed vacation. “Give me a grinder machine, a piece of steel, and five minutes, and I can fix this for you,” is what comes to mind…
But such intervention would be a hasty response to this unusual beast. It would also be wholly unnecessary. If you see one on your next GTG, you won’t be able to tear your eyes away from it. And nor should you try to. Just like me on my last visit to the Hungarian vintage watch shop 10ora10. Surrounded by hundreds of vintage watches, I stopped dead in my tracks when I spotted the Navygraf II.
The dial isn’t perfect, the luminant seems well-acquainted with the concept of moisture and the crown has been probably been changed at least once, as it glides gently on the guards. These are three details that would usually either hold me back or encourage me to haggle. But the moment I put it on my wrist, I said I’d take it. I don’t remember saying, “YES” to a watch so quickly at first sight. It sat on my wrist for a week straight after the purchase and, in all earnestness, it was an exceptionally comfortable seven days.
It took me quite a while to be able to articulate why I would be able to wear Navygraf II as my daily beater. Such robust case constructions usually come in at least a 45mm diameter, meaning it would take a Bud Spencer or Giani Agnelli to sport it without looking cartoonish. The Yema Navygraf, however, has that heavy industrial appearance without breaking your wrist. As the case measures a pleasant 41mm at the crown guards, you are free to pet your dog without hurting it. Tried and tested.
As a German car lover, I was always bemused by the peculiarities of French automotive design. To find out that many of these off-the-wall creations went into serial production to be driven by millions of people beggars belief. But it seems the same is true of the French-made watches. The Yema Navygraf II bezel construction is, to say the least, somewhat unorthodox. I am also not so sure about its functionality when seeing a bit of corrosion emerging around the edge of the dial on my particular piece. But back in the day of its release, the Yema leaflets guaranteed 300 meters (or 990 feet) of water resistance, so I guess it must have worked.
The beautiful acrylic bezel features a brick-red thin arc highlighting the 20 minute counter. A detail seldom seen is that the diving time is not marked in five-minute, but rather in two-minute intervals. I raise my 10/10 sign for the font selection too. Timing my morning eggs with the Yema Navygraf makes for a great start to the day as well. That is probably the closest interaction with water my Navygraf will get in the next few years.
The bezel slides smoothly thanks to an excellently-engineered mount. There is quite a deep groove on the side of the bezel that holds it in place and allows it to glide around the case at the same time. Those covered lugs are covered for a reason. Angled cover plates, affixed by hexagonal screws, clamp down on the lugs and slot into the deep groove on the bezel’s flank. An ingenious solution to an age-old problem, that results in a striking aesthetic for the Navygraf II.
What do I consider the highest level of watch collecting? To buy a watch without knowing it, without ever having seen it in real life, just because your gut tells you there is something about it§. What a reward it is to hit the books and discover a fascinating history beyond it. Here I found an article featuring valuable information and insights directly from Jean Müller, Yema design director from 1974 to 1982.
Another Yema bezel lock
Jean Müller explains that he changed the originally slotted screw heads for hex-bolts like the ones you see on my later example purely because of the visual effect. He also talks about what a pain it was to develop another innovation that, sadly, is not present on my watch. Some models feature a massive transverse rod sticking out from the case. It was nothing but a smart system for locking the bezel. “Machining centers didn’t exist back then and milling and drilling precision were quite random. Sometimes it was necessary to put extra pressure on the rod to unlock the bezel, but the system was pretty reliable,” Jean Muller explains in an interview.
The dial and handset play a significant role in my affinity towards this watch. The steel-structured dial reflects light happily, causing it to change tones from light brown to black. If it weren’t for the Rolex Submariner, I would probably declare this as the next holy grail watch. What entertains me in particular, except for the lollipop second hand, are the indexes at twelve that look like a pause button and the indexes at six and nine that look like eject buttons. Most old and newer listings date this French Submariner back to 1978, but the above-mentioned article shows a year older catalog clipping from 1977.
There was also a quartz movement Navygraf II available, but I urge you to hold out for the automatic. The standard FE 4611 automatic movement won’t make you faint, but you will enjoy its quick set date. There aren’t many Navygrafs II available, so stay vigilant. I would say you need to reserve from €600 to €1,000 in your budget, depending on where your condition benchmark sits. The big crown is fun to operate and the bezel fun to play with. I have quite a few unwearable watches in my collection, but this one is by far the most wearable and will catch quite the tan this summer. Happy hunting.
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About the author
During the day time, Tomas is an entrepreneur in the advertising, automotive and IT software industries. At night he turns into a watch enthusiast searching for quirky movements or vintage pieces with strong stories behind. Tomas was born and bred… read more
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