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mCa Watch Review

by The TimeSurfer for webWatchWorld.com

Summary:  Interesting inexpensive Chinese watch is very accurate and has a few unusual features. Not easy to find and the price has risen over 600% since its introduction, but it is very accurate nicely finished.

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Background

The mCa wrist watch has to be one of the most obscure brands on the planet. mCa watches are apparently made by or for CN Watches, which also makes or distributes the Ellesse brand and a couple of other made-up brand name fashion watches.

It's my guess that the U.S. distributor has the watches made under contract with the mCa label by Sea-Gull or another Chinese watch manufacturer. The watch does have a Sea-Gull Number 6502, ST6S movement living behind a very nicely detailed face and packed inside a decent stainless steel case.

The watch was introduced to the U.S. in 2009, apparently with a rock-bottom price designed to attract customers. This one cost only $29.99, including shipping!

The same watch shown here now sells for around $190.00, which is a 600% increase over the bargain-basement introductory price. At 30 bucks, it is (was) a certified steal. But forking over 190 Washingtons takes a different level of consideration. The mCa (it has no other model name that I'm aware of) is a nicely made mechanical (automatic) watch with a few interesting complications and excellent accuracy, but if you're into Chinese watches, there are some very nice examples to be found in the catalogs of Sea-Gull, Alpha, Parnis and others for that kind of dosh.

 Sea-Gull Watches

In case you didn't know, Sea-Gull is one of the largest watch manufacturers in the world. They make movements and complete watches under their own Sea-Gull brand and their watches are sold under many other labels. It is said that Sea-Gull makes approximately 25% of all the watch movements used in the world.

The quality of Sea-Gull movements can vary, but in general, the company is known for making robust products and some of the higher end movements are very nice indeed, with repeaters and tourbillons going for big money.

In fact, I have a Sea-Gull M222s manual wind watch that is an outstanding example of the company's work, with a highly polished case, a beautiful dial behind a sapphire crystal, a great-looking and nicely adorned and finished movement behind a clear (sapphire, I believe) case back. The watch even came with one of the nicest leather straps and brushed stainless steel buckles I've ever encountered as a piece of original equipment.

The ST6S movement used in the very inexpensive mCa watch is definitely not as lux as the movement used in the M222s, that's for sure. The mCa movement is rather crudely finished, with rough edges and no decorations at all. There seems to be more than an average amount of dust and dirt inside the case and even a thumbprint or two on the automatic movement rotor.

Nevertheless, the mCa keeps excellent time; just as an example, I set it a little over 48 hours ago as of this writing, coordinated to the second with the NIST "atomic" clock. The mCa is sitting in front of me on the desk and it is now 7.5 seconds fast -- an outstanding level of accuracy, especially for this price range.

And because the ST6S movement hacks, I can easily pull out the crown, wait for the NIST time to catch up, push in the crown and I'm good to go for another couple of days of extreme accuracy.

Sea-Gull ST6S Movement mCa Watch Strap
Sea-Gull ST6S movement (L). mCa original watch strap (R).


mCa Watch Features

This particular mCa watch (the company has a few other types, also labeled with the mCa logo) has several recognizable features. The wheat-colored face is embossed with a guilloche pattern; obviously not done with a machine tool at this price, but it definitely sets it apart from your average 30 buck Timex.

The numbers are raised and appear to be metal, with a blued finish that surely didn't come from the heat of a furnace but looks nice in any regard. The hands also have blued edges around the lume, with lumed dots at each hour.

A feature of the watch that attracted me is the big, long, sweeping seconds hand. I like long and accurate seconds hands like this, and the bonus is that the hash marks around the watch are divided into 5 segments for each second. Although it almost appears that the seconds hand hits every one of the marks, which would be 18,000 bph, I believe the movement actually runs at 21,000 beats per hour.

Of course, the other very noticeable features of the mCa "multifunction sun/moon" watch are the sub-dials. The dial on the left indicates the day of the week, spelled out in English three-letter abbreviations (e.g., SUN, MON, TUE, etc.). The bottom sub-dial is a 24-hour hand, incremented with numbers at 6, 12, 18 and 24 and hash marks for the rest.

Behind the 24-hour hand is a day/night indicator, with a rasher of stars for night and a cheerful-looking sun indicating day.

The third sub-dial on the right is the date indicator, with numbers at 10, 20 and 31 and hash marks for the remaining 28 days. Of course, it's difficult to see and recognize all this information at a glance, but it's there for a careful study and admiration.

The case is somewhat plain but serviceable. It is made from stainless steel and it appears to be well made, mostly polished and with a brushed finish on either side. The case back seems a bit cheap; it is a simple cover, held in place by 6 small Phillips head screws. A thin gasket lives underneath and the watch is claimed "Waterresistant" in a laser etching on the back, along with the mCa logo in script.

In fact, this mis-spelling probably does more to cheapen the watch than anything else; you'd think the factory could find one English speaker somewhere to confirm the correctness of the phrase.

The shallow laser etching doesn't help either; laser etching is cheap, fast and ubiquitous in today's products but should be relegated to marking parts for assembly only, in my opinion. I'd rather the case have no marking at all than a mis-spelled and somewhat meaningless phrase, quickly sprayed on with a laser. But, for 30 bucks, who am I to complain? One can only hope the latest $190.00 versions at least have correct spelling!

The crystal is slightly domed and the U.S. distributor confirmed at the time of purchase that it is "sapphire coated" and not sapphire. No problem there actually, because the crystal has a nice feel and appears to be more scratch resistant than plastic.

mCa Watch Dimensions

Watch Size and Weight

The mCa watch is a reasonable 40 mm across, with a 46.8 mm lug tip distance. The watch is slightly thick at 14 mm, and it does feel like it stands high on the wrist for its size.

Part of the reason for this is the slightly curved case back, which is raised approximately 2 mm from the case.

Removing the case back indicates there is nothing but air underneath, so if the case back were flat, the watch would become 12 mm thick and would probably feel like it laid closer to the wrist and less "top heavy".

The watch shown here, with its standard faux-alligator strap, weighs 66 grams.

The lugs are relatively short, so the 40 mm case will probably fit wrists that might not normally take that size.

The watch does not have a rotating bezel, and the machined top of the case also seems a bit high but does a good job at holding the crystal securely.

The lug width is 20 mm, which is a proportional width for this watch I think and offers the potential of many different watch straps or bands available in that common size.

The crown is a basic unit, with a rough feel when pulled out to set the hands. The first position allows winding of the automatic movement and there is a slipping sensation when the watch is fully wound.

The slipping clutch feel tells the owner that the mainspring is fully wound, a nice feature. By the way, the winding gear and cog are very quiet as the watch is being wound.

The rough feel probably comes from the rather poorly finished movement. I think the ST6S movement has a lot of potential, at least based on my experience with this watch, and I'll bet a nicely finished example in a watch that had an equally well-finished face would be able to sell for...well, at least the $190.00 they're asking for current examples!

Setting the mCa Watch

It may seem like it would be difficult or overwhelming to get the hands and sub-dials coordinated and set on this multifunction watch, but in reality, the ST6S movement provides a couple of tricks to make it easy. This is all demonstrated in the video below.

First, remember that the hands must be set to the correct location in coordination with the day/night indicator. For example, if it is 01:00 (1 a.m.), then the hands should be wheeled around until they are at 01:00 while making sure that the stars are showing in the day/night indicator. This is because there are two positions where the watch can be showing 1:00 -- once at 01:00 and once at 13:00.

The pushers on the right side of the case are used to set the left (day) and right (date) sub-dials. The bottom pusher sets the numerical date wheel on the right, and the top pusher sets the days.

The best way to get everything coordinated is to first turn the hands around for 24 hours until you see the day/night indicator move and the two sub-dials move and the hands are past midnight with stars showing in the indicator. It's probably best to bring the hands past 03:00 hours, because it takes the movement that long to switch the day hand due to the slack in the gear train.

 Now use the pushers to bring the day and date to the day just before the current day. Next, turn the watch through 24 hours until today's day and date show and make sure they are correct, then set the hands.

It sounds complicated but I think once you watch the video, it will all become clear.

mCa Watch Video

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Pricing

As I mentioned, I bought the watch for $29.99 and at that price, who could resist? I almost thought it was a mistake at first, but apparently the U.S. distributor was taking a loss to help get the brand established -- if you can say that for a brand that probably sells in the hundreds, if that.

By the way, the first mCa watch that arrived had an inoperative 24 hour hand. The hand quickly fell off the stem but the watch was immediately replaced with the current version shown here and this one runs fine.

I'm not sure I'd pay the current asking price for the watch though, unless the new version had a movement with a better finish and a better-looking case back. If it was a Chinese watch I was after -- and there are many Chinese watch collectors out there today -- I'd probably be looking at Sea-Gull, although Sea-Gull prices seem to have taken a dramatic jump recently. Again, the marketing tactic seems to be to come in with very low prices to establish the brand, then raise them as market acceptance rises.

Also, there isn't a current Sea-Gull corresponding model to the mCa shown here until you get to the Sea-Gull M199s chronograph, with the well-regarded ST-19 movement. However, we're talking apples and oranges here, because the overall finish and appeal of the M199s puts it in a totally different category of watch; indeed, it may be a bargain at the current asking price of $429.00 in the U.S., with free shipping!

A more likely competitor would be the Model 657-HZ2296 from Alpha Watches, currently selling for $50.00 direct from Hong Kong.

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Lume

The mCa has a decent amount of lume. The relatively wide hands are filled with lume and each hour has a lumed dot. A very nice feature is the dual lumed dots above the 12, which indicate which side is "up" in the dark.

Conclusion

I hope it is obvious that at 30 dollars, this watch is a bargain. It would make a very good choice for someone just getting into mechanical watches from quartz for the first time. It does have some of its own personality and this one has very surprising accuracy.

The features are nice, although in reality, I'm much more of a watch face purist -- I like three hands and numbers and that's it. I don't even like date displays, to be honest. At $190.00 however, I'm not so sure. The watch would have to show better quality in the movement, although you'd never know unless the back was removed. Perhaps if it were priced around $125.00 or so, it would be a better deal.

Published: February 2010


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