The Yema «Bipôle Duopoly» wristwatch

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The Yema «Bipôle Duopoly» wristwatch

The love of my wrist these days is a quirky sort of wristwatch, an almost-perfect timepiece. Very rare (only 1500 made), almost indestructible, yet without a second-hand, dependent upon a battery, and abandoned by its maker, the prestigious Yema of France. (Important maintenance notes follow.)

The Yema «Bipôle Duopoly»

Yema Transanarctic Bi-Pole Yema Transanarctic Bi-Pole

The Yema «Bipôle Duopoly» wristwatch, known variously as the Yema Transanarctic Bi-Pole (Transantarctica Polar Navigational) or the BiPole, is visually arresting, unbelievably rugged, waterproof, and transparent through the watch body. (This is certainly a watch that catches people's attention and generates comments.)

This 1990 wristwatch pushed the edge of high-tech rugged construction in the service of surviving extreme sports: titanium, carbon fiber, sapphire, and kevlar.

The Yema «Bipôle Duopoly»
  • Large, 48mm solid titanium case. 60 grams.
  • French FE7020 quartz movement.
  • 362 silver oxide watch battery
  • Waterproof to 300 ft (100 m) with screw-down crown
  • Sidereal solar sighting anti-magnetic compass.
  • See-through sapphire crystal faces: anti-glare, anti-fog, anti-scratch.
  • Reversible front (North pole) & back (South pole) faces; unlike the northern hemisphere, in the southern the sun makes its 360° transit from right to left).
  • Limited quantity produced: 1500 units made, at an original retail price of US$1500.

The watch comes in a transparent triangular plastic case with two wristbands, a red Kevlar waterproof band and brown dress leather band, and two screwdrivers and extra screws for changing of bands.

Yema Bi-Pole (1989) box

Here's a good view of the explorers' Kevlar band, in all it's velcro fuzziness :-) Seriously, this would look good with my bright yellow mountaineering jacket. Sadly, the band frays very quickly and the company doesn't support the watch in any way, including selling pricey accessories. Good move, that.

Yema Bi-Pole (1989) red Kevlar wristband

The wristwatch, part of an interesting family of watches, was commissioned by explorers Dr. Jean-Louis Etienne and Will Steger for their 1989 International Transantarctic Expedition. (Dr. Etienne is the first man to reach the North Pole alone, pulling his sleigh and walking for 63 days over the 800 kilometers, from the northern edge of Canada. Mr Steger is the fourth person ever to reach both poles,)

Transantarctica - Expedition durchs Eis At left is the cover of the book written about the adventures: Transantarctica - Expedition durchs Eis (German: Across Antarctica - Expedition Through the Ice), by Jean-Louis Etienne; Ilse Rothfuss (translator).

In addition to wanting a timepiece that would stand up to the rigors of rough handling in a freezing environment, they needed a way to find their bearings via the sun (as compasses don't work near the North Pole, their operation disrupted by the proximity to magnetic north); the watch displays mean as well as sidereal time. (A discussion on using the Bi-Pole's face for direction-finding will be added.)

A team of six men and thirty-six specially wolf-huskie cross-breeds took 220 days to cross Antarctica. By sled and ski they covered about 6000 kilometers (3700 miles) - from the Larsen ice shelf to Mirnyj - in extreme cold with winds raging at over 160 kph (100 mph), crossing altitudes over 3474 meters (11,400 feet). The team members were:

  • Will Steger, an American, an impassioned and seasoned explorer
  • Jean-Louis Etienne, a French doctor who had skied solo to the North Pole, where by incredible chance he had met Steger on the icepack
  • Victor Boyarsky, a scientist from the Soviet Union (Russia), who had previous experience collecting ozone and weather data at scientific bases in Antarctica
  • Qin Dahe, a glaciologist from china, whose daily measurements of the ice and snow were to shed light on the extent to which Antarctica had been polluted
  • Keizo Funatsu, a dog trainer from Osaka, assigned to keeping the sled dogs-considered to be the most crucial members of the team- healthy and inspired
  • Geoff Somers, also a dog trainer, veteran of the British Antarctic survey and the team's navigator
[Condensed from Will Steger's expedition journals.]

I happened across the Bi-Pole at the North Face store near Union Square, San Francisco. It looked great on my wrist, but the price was prohibitive. Still, it never left the horology part of my brain. Years later I discovered one at a reasonable price, and have since snagged a second one (which Rose also wears).

About the watch-maker:

Maxell 362 watch battery The Yema watch company -- YEMA Maison Horlogère Française -- was founded in Besancon, France, in 1948. An early coup was the 1953 offering of wristwatches waterproof at depths greather than 200 meters. Yema became James Bond's first movie watch; Dr. No, 1962. The company, which had been wholly-owned by Seiko, is now back in French hands after a 2004 purchase by Louis-Eric Beckensteiner.

Important maintenance notes:

DO NOT use the Horotec case crab, as is mentioned below. It will mar the titanium finish. My watch guy, a German uhrmachermeister, pounds a razor blade in-between the watch and the face plate with a "large hammer" to get space for a thin wedge or screwdriver. (I have photos of the offending tools to be uploaded when I return to the USA.)

DO change the battery annually. Evidently the watch really sucks the juice from the battery, with corrosive acid leaks a sad result.

USE the 362 silver oxide watch battery for replacements.

A family of rugged timepieces

The Yema «Bipôle Duopoly» is but one sibling in a family of related wristwatches, all of which feature similar construction and styling. Each has a story of its own.

The Yema «Bipôle North Pole»

Related to the «Bipôle is the North Pole, a predecessor wristwatch created in 1986 to commemorate Dr. Etienne's for his 800 kilometer pedestrian trek to the North Pole. Shown are variants, one with a die-cut empty hand, another filled with (presumably) some luminescent material, and another with a grey bagkground and a different face style.

The titanium watch case is engraved with "J. L. ETIENNE 11 05 86 2h04 89° 999" to note the time of his arrival at the pole.

Yema North Pole (1986) Yema North Pole (1986) Yema North Pole (1986)

The Yema «Bipôle Raid Gauloises»

The Yema «Bipôle Raid Gauloises», with an F37037 movement, was released in 1991 for The Raid, an overland endurance adventure race which requires competitor to be part of a five person co-ed team which must navigate to specified checkpoints without a set course, relying on on-the-fly judgements, nerve, and wits.

The Yema «Bipôle Expédition Pôle Sud» or what?

There is yet another variant of which I've only seen one example, and never on-line. It's a grey face upon which a blue compass rose with a white Antarctica appears. Degrees and arcs appear on the back side, while degrees and 12-hour markings appear on the front. Based upon the markings I've come to call this model the Yema «Bipôle Expédition Pôle Sud». If you have any substantive information about this model, or any other variants, please let me know.

Yema Expédition Pole Sud Yema Expédition Pole Sud Yema Expédition Pole Sud

Related correspondence:

Sunday 16 Jan 2005

Michael,

I also have a Yema Bipole. An interesting watch, but very hard on batteries. I purchased mine new in Washington, D.C. before I left on my climbing expedition above the arctic circle.

Some interesting facts about this watch:

Neither Yema or Longines (US importer) will honor the original lifetime battery replacement agreement. A few years after Longines moved its repair department to Rio (yes, South America), the watchmaker refused to work on the watch stating that he had disposed of the special tools and parts needed to work on and repair the watch.

The back is a press fit with a red plastic gasket. This gasket, as well as the other two clear cushion/spacer gaskets can be readily found from supply houses.

A Horotec case crab, or 4 Delrin wedges can be used to open the back. Great care must be taken or damage will result. Do not tamper with the top at all! It is a very very tight interference fit, and is not meant to be removed ever.

Underneath the back dial is an FE7020 quartz movement. The movement has been discontinued. The FE7021 can replace it, but does not have the gmt function.

The crown is nothing special, but the stem is. If it breaks, it can be replaced with the one from the FE7021.

The hands are painted with a compound that will fluoresce in flat light.

One piece bands can be made using a template from the original band. I used rayskin, but 1/8" thick leather would work well and be much cheaper. Buckles are very hard to find for the band. There is a gent on the web who sells a Panerai buckle copy that fits and is cheap and heavy duty.

The original red kevlar and velcro band will not hold up to longtime use. It will start fraying badly.

Treat the watch with TLC, parts are impossible to come by.

Yours,

Scott Yembrick

[Background to this web page: While I have several dress watches, including the Universal Genève Tri-Compax, my day-to-day needs include an indestructable wristwatch. (For a while that was the Stocker & Yale P650 Type 6, which my wife Rose now wears so she can tell what time it is in the middle of the night, when she's breastfeeding Lila.)]

(I've tried to used the most commonly-used names for this watch so those using search engines will find this page. If you have any information about this watch, photos or scans of interesting documents or you wearing the watch someplace interesting, please let me know.)

Updated: Wednesday 10 December 2008

Have you found errors nontrivial or marginal, factual, analytical and illogical, arithmetical, temporal, or even typographical? Please let me know; drop me email. Thanks!
 

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