Founded in 1948, French watchmaker Yema has a diverse modern catalog: not just in quantity, but in pricing, functionality, and sizing. Naturally (for a 75-year-old brand), most of their models have been around for decades. Today, Yema honors this history by adhering to original design cues. Their flagship dive watch – the Superman – is no exception. The vintage-inspired diver is perhaps Yema's most popular watch. Last year, they rolled out the Superman 500, featuring an upgraded in-house movement and 500 meters of water resistance. Today, we’re looking at the latest iteration: the Superman 500 Dato. Before diving in, let’s cover a brief history.
Yema Superman Background
Originally released in 1963, the Yema Superman is often referred to as the first mass-market deep-diving watch, equipped with 300 meters of water resistance. Its defining characteristic is its bezel lock: a small bracket that holds the bezel in place while the crown is screwed down. This prevents any accidental bezel manipulation: a potentially life-threatening risk while diving. Of course, no one today would run the risk of timing their dive solely with a watch bezel: we have computers for that. Still, this feature is what makes the Superman the Superman.
Sixty years, three ownerships (by my count), and an industry revolution later, Yema is still producing their beloved dive watch. In fact, they’re expanding and improving upon the collection. Last year, they released a GMT variant of the Superman 500: an excellent watch that we covered in Geneva this past spring. Now, Yema adds a date complication to the Superman 500, creating the Superman 500 Dato.
Yema Superman 500 Dato Specifications
Besides the added date complication, the Superman 500 Dato is identical to the Superman 500. Available in 39mm and 41mm diameters (only the latter pictured), the watch has very modest dimensions. Both sizes are just 11mm thick: a figure that’s as comfortable as it is impressive for a 500 meter dive watch. The smaller variant measures 48mm lug-to-lug and 19mm in lug width. The larger variant measures 49.5mm lug-to-lug and 20mm in lug width, making it compatible with far more straps than 39mm version.
Inside the Superman 500 Dato sits the in-house caliber YEMA2000, featuring 42 hours of power reserve, +/-10 seconds per day accuracy, and a beat rate of 4Hz. These numbers aren’t Earth-shattering, but they’re solid and dependable. Yema’s movements are assembled and regulated in their Morteau, France workshops. The brand has put a large emphasis on insourcing their movement technology in recent years.
Interacting with the Superman 500 Dato is delightful. The crown screws in and out very smoothly. Winding the watch, turning the bezel, and setting the time/date are all easy and satisfying processes: there’s no vagueness or mushiness in any of these components. The bezel lock (pictured above) functions as you would expect it to, and in my experience, doesn’t get in the way of manipulating the crown. I am, however, someone who loves to fidget with rotating bezels, which a bezel lock obviously does not lend itself to. That’s more of a me problem.
The 3 o’clock date window is a date window. Those who want a date complication will choose this variant: it comes at no additional cost to the original Superman 500. While some people feel that date windows don’t belong on dive watches, I feel like it only adds to the Superman 500’s practicality as an everyday wear. It looks nice too; the window’s rectangular shape is consistent with the rectangular indices at 6 and 9 o’clock. While the green-dial version features a black date wheel, the white-dial version features a color-matched white date wheel: something that many people care a lot about.
Yema offers a lot of options with the Superman 500 DATO. Besides the aforementioned size and color options, you get to choose between four bracelets/straps: the five-link hexagonal “scales” steel bracelet (pictured), the five link “original” steel bracelet, a black FKM rubber strap, and a black leather strap. The scales bracelet – a reinterpretation of their 1960’s design – is comfortable and compliments the Superman well. The clasp is good, too: you have 4 micro-adjustment points and a diver’s extension. At this price point, I would have liked to see toolless micro-adjustment and a bit more of a taper, but those are nitpicks.
Wearing Experience and Intangibles
For a tool watch, the Superman 500 has a surprising amount of mirror polishing. The case itself (flanks, lugs, crown guards) is completely polished, while the side of the bezel (and most of the scales bracelet) is brushed. This means that, from a top-down angle – a pretty common angle to look at a watch – you’ll see mostly polished surfaces: neither a good nor bad thing, but something to note.
No matter how many numbers I rattle off, dive watch measurements are tricky to comprehend over the internet. Bezel width – a measurement that I’ve never seen listed on any watch ever – plays a large role in how a watch feels on the wrist. Because the bezel is included in the case diameter (39mm or 41mm), the width of that bezel has a negative relationship with the rest of the dial. The Superman 500 has a very narrow bezel, resulting in a lot of dial real estate. This is a very legible watch without feeling oversized: a hard balance to strike.
Speaking of the dials, these are stunning. The white dial has a paper-like texture that not only looks great, but disperses light very well. The green dial features a smoother, almost glossy finish. You might get some more distracting reflections with this one. It also has faux patina: darker, amber-colored lume plots to mimic the aging effect of the now-defunct tritium (a radioactive luminous material). Faux patina is somewhat polarizing, but those who love it will definitely love this.
Despite the Superman’s creation as a professional dive watch, and modern improvements to further enhance its professional capability (e.g. 500 meters of water resistance), its proportions are similar to those of a “skin diver”. Skin divers became popular in the 1950s and ‘60s as smaller, more wearable options for recreational divers or snorkelers. While skin divers usually have lesser specifications – a natural trade off given their decreased size – the Superman has never and (presumably) never will make this compromise. This watch is rated to go deeper than any human has ever gone without a submersible. I love this about the Superman line: you really get the best of both worlds.
Ever since I got my hands on the Yema Superman 500 at Time to Watches Geneva, it’s been one of my favorite divers on the market. It’s rare that we see such over-the-top specs in a truly comfortable vintage-inspired package. This combo makes for a spectacular everyday watch: not to mention the added practicality of a date window. I’m afraid that, if I bought this watch, I wouldn’t wear anything else. The Yema Superman 500 Dato occupies a unique space in the world of dive watches, and for $1,300, you’ll be hard pressed to find anything rivaling its capability, refinement, and historical significance.