There was certainly no shortage of funky chronographs in the 1970s. Bright, colorful dials, unique timing functions, and a wide range of interesting case designs became kind of a calling card for the decade. Brands like Zenith, Bulova, Tudor, and even Omega embraced the 70s aesthetic, each with their own takes on the chronograph. Yema has been making watches out of France since the late 1940s, but really hit their stride in the 1960s with their popular Superman dive watches, and eventually the racing-centric Rallygraf. A decade later in the 70s, they put out another racing inspired watch called the Meangraf — a funky series of chronographs that were built specifically to calculate the average hourly speed of a race car.
Stick with me here, to participate in the calculation of average speed, one would use the chronograph feature to time the race (of which they knew the set distance), and then rotate the single purpose calculation bezel to line up the time elapsed with the distance traveled, and then the average speed of the vehicle could be read out via a triangle pointing to the number at 9 o’clock. An interesting and highly specific complication, this speed calculating bezel is not often seen in the watch world…until it’s recent reissue on Yema’s resurrected Meangraf.
Today, we’re taking a look at the modern re-release of Yema’s racing watch. Sporting the same name as its predecessor, the Meangraf isn’t quite as angry as it sounds. While not the most known model in the Meangraf lineup, Yema opted to release a lesser-known, funkier variant from the past. Today’s version is a very solid 39mm block of steel with an inset bezel, mechaquartz movement, and a fun dial with yellow accents. At a touch under $ 350, it’s all the charm of a 70s chronograph without the potential headache of going vintage.
Editor’s note: The images seen in this review depict a pre-production prototype, and may not represent the final production quality.
Review: The YEMA Meangraf Is Reborn
316L Stainless Steel
Seiko VK63 Mechaquartz
Black with yellow accents
Domed Mineral Glass
Steel mesh or leather
Push Down, Signed
39 x 46 millimeters of barrel-shaped 316L stainless steel make up the Meangraf’s chunky case. An unbroken slab of polished metal makes quite the impression right off the bat. There’s a slight undercut in the case which adds a little bit of relief from the slab. It’s a very interesting profile, playing with different angles and textures. The thickness measures in at 13.5mm, but appears to be thicker. It’s nice if you want a case with some visual presence, and also something that doesn’t feel like you’re wearing a brick on your wrist.
The 46mm lug-to-lug measurement is nice and short, giving the Meangraf some nice proportions on wrist. The lack of traditional lugs paired with the 46mm measurement result in a watch that will rest well within the bounds of most wrists. From the top down, you can admire the barrel shape with its signature flat top and bottom and rounded sides. Traditional lugs are nowhere to be seen, just a cascade of steel from the top surface to the strap attachment point — a design element I really love.
The lack of traditional lugs result in a sleek case that’s highlighted by the vertical brushing (making for high drama wrist rolls). With a push down crown, the case is water resistance to 100m — more than enough for daily use and definitely enough to withstand a rinse after those huge splashes of mud thrown by the rally cars you’re trying to calculate the average hourly speed of.
The polished sides and brushed top surface are broken up by a wide polished chamfer which transitions into the inset rotating bezel in the middle of the case. From the side, you can see this effect even clearer. The only portion of the bezel that you can manipulate is exposed between 2 and 4, and again between 7 and 10. While I love how this looks, functionally it’s a bit of a nightmare.
The thin bezel is largely shrouded by the case and it’s difficult to turn. While I really dig the aesthetic of the thin textured edges, the firm action and minimal area to grip the bezel result in one that’s very hard to actually use. I’ve found that I have to try and use an edge of my fingernail (not much to work with there) to really dig in and spin the bezel. It’s not the most precise way of turning a bezel, especially on one where you have to line up tiny numbers in order to make the thing work. Speaking of how it works, let’s go over that.
Chronograph and Bezel
Imagine you’re in the European countryside, and you’re about to witness a race that’s 200km long. As the race begins, you start your chronograph to time the event. All of the action takes two hours total, at the completion if which, you stop the timer. Now comes the tricky part. Starting at around 6:30, the internal scale on the rehaut counts up in 5 minute intervals from 30 minutes to an hour (a triangle at 9:00), then switches over to every ten minutes.
It’s displayed in a confusing way, so “110, 120, 130” is actually an hour and 10 minutes, 20 minutes, etc. Since we know the race is a set distance of 200km, we rotate the outer bezel’s 200 marking to line up with the 200 (2 hour) marking on the rehaut. Now, our average hourly speed is presented by the triangle at 9 o’clock. We now know that the car’s average speed is 100km/h as told by the readout (or some simple math in your head).
The odd spacing in the scale, paired with really small numbers, and a bezel that’s downright awkward to turn results in a calculation that’s really not all that useful outside of the world of racing. Also, it’s a bit odd with the chronograph sub dial data. On the left sub dial, there’s a 60 minute counter, and on the right a 24 hour indicator. So timing a race is limited to 60 minutes, despite the scale going up to a full 10 hours. The right sub dial has nothing to do with anything else on the watch, other than the fact that that’s what the VK63 movement inside does. As a guy who appreciates a good, functional watch, the Yema Meangraf falls a bit short in its timing and calculation abilities — they could have been thought out a little bit more.
Dial & Hands
Yema’s re-release of the Meangraf sports a deep gray dial that’s ever-so-slightly metallic. Running down the center is a swoopy yellow stylized set of racing stripes. They’re broken up by the Yema logo, with “Meangraf Super” rendered in cursive text just below it. Inset into the dial, there are two chronograph sub dials, situated at 3:00 and 9:00 appearing in a pearly shade of white with a hint of metallic shine. The sub dial at three is a 24-hour indicator, which again, doesn’t really add much to the rally racing nature of the watch (unless maybe you’re at the 24 Hours of Le Mans).
On the left side of the dial at 9:00, there’s a 60 minute counter. Denoting hours, you’ll find small, squared off applied indices that are treated with a hit of lume in the center. In between, there’s a cool checkerboard style alternating pattern that differentiates between minutes. Between the scale on the rehaut, the checkerboard minutes track, and two chronograph sub dials, there’s quite a bit going on within the bounds of the dial. It wouldn’t be a 70s-inspired chronograph if there wasn’t a lot going on. The elements are balanced enough to read, and they definitely fall into the fun and playful category with some clear motorsport DNA throughout.
A set of polished pencil shaped hands denote the main time, while a tapered yellow hand takes care of the running chronograph seconds. The handset is balanced well with the rest of the dial elements, and I like how the yellow seconds hand picks up on the racing stripes behind in the dial. It’s a great use of the color yellow, a shade which I’m not particularly fond of, but here it really works. The base gray dial with the hint of metallic shine provides excellent contrast for the pearly sub dials. Overall, the dial is pretty busy because it has to be. There’s a lot of information needed to make the calculation bezel work, and Yema’s designers did a good job of balancing everything out.
Inside the Meangraf, you’ll find the affordable and reliable Seiko-made SII VK63 mechaquartz movement. I’ve reviewed watches with this movement in here before, and it’s hard to top my colleague’s excellent article on the subject of mechaquartz movements that you can read here. Basically, what you’ve got is a hybrid quartz movement with a mechanical gearing. The result is an affordable chronograph movement that feels and looks like its mechanical counterpart.
Activating the plungers is nice and snappy, and you get the slightly jumpy five beat per second sweep of the central seconds hand. In the world of affordable chronographs, especially in the sub-$ 500 range, you’re more than likely to find this one from SII, and I’m totally okay with that. While it makes sense from an affordability angle, the 60 minute totalizer and 24 hour indicator aren’t the most functional fits with the rest of the watch.
Strap & Wearability
On the wrist, the Meangraf is quite the hunk of steel. However, the balanced proportions and relatively short lug-to-lug result in a watch that’s surprisingly wearable. While the case is thick, it’s not imposingly so. The crystal stands about 2mm off the top of the case, and the inset bezel help with the visual thickness. If you’re not a fan of slab sides, I can confidently say that this watch might not be for you. The sides of the watch are unapologetically slabby, which just screams 1970s. Again, if that’s a style you’re looking for, a funky case shape is almost mandatory.
While the Yema Meangraf is not a watch I’d typically seek out, I’m pleasantly surprised with how fun it is to wear. The model I had the chance to check out came on the steel mesh band, which balances out the weight of the thick watch head up top. It’s super flexible and very comfortable to wear. The clasp locks up nice and tight, with an additional security clasp keeping it on my wrist. I’ve found the barrel shaped case to wear well too, in spite of the thick sides.
Now that we’re at the end of the review, it may seem like I was pretty critical to the Yema Meangraf. There are definitely a pretty balanced list of pros and cons. While I took issue with the bezel action, making calculations, and the choice of movement from a functionality standpoint, it’s hard to deny that the Meangraf is a fun watch. I love the barrel shaped case and how it cascades from top to lugs. The inset bezel is really cool looking, and to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I would ever use the calculation bezel. To me, it hits harder as an aesthetic choice than a functional one. That’s kind of how the whole watch feels, and I’m okay with it.
For $ 350, it’s a well-constructed, fun, and funky watch that looks like it’s been pulled straight from the 1970s (I guess that’s what a reissue is). If you can overlook the few quirks, it’s a joy to wear. Solid with some nice heft, but still comfortable on the wrist, courtesy of that steel mesh bracelet. While the calculation bezel was frustrating to figure out (shoutout to my Pen Addict Slack Group for the group effort), it will hardly ever come into use for me. While my dark gray Honda plug-in hybrid doesn’t exactly scream “heritage motorsports’ ‘ while I quietly glide into the office, I feel a whole heck of a lot cooler driving it with the Yema Meangraf on my wrist. Yema.