When Kikuo Ibe threw the first prototype of the Casio DW-500 out the window of the men’s washroom on the third floor of Casio’s R&D centre back in 1983, little did he know that the thud of the watch as it hit the pavement would be heard all over the world. That particular washroom has become legendary, and so has Ibe’s story.
Even after 35 years, the bespectacled Japanese engineer still shares the origins of the G-Shock with gusto. “I never imagined that the watch would be so popular and would last this long. Honestly, I’m just grateful,” shared Ibe. What most people might not know though was that the G-Shock only exploded in popularity around the world a decade after it was invented.
About 25 years ago in the US, Casio released a television commercial (above) that depicted the G-Shock sitting on the floor of an ice skating rink before being abused by an ice hockey player.
The commercial captivated the American public so much that another television programme conducted its own independent testing by replicating the commercial. Of course, the G-Shock survived and became a hit.
Empire State of Mind Celebrations
It was only fitting then that Casio returned to America and the concrete jungle where dreams are made of to kick-start its 35th anniversary celebrations. In front of a crowd of watch journalists and celebrities, Ibe and team chronicled the evolution of the tough watch from its humble beginnings to its current cultural icon status.
“We made the marketing decision to create a lifestyle around the G-Shock, especially in the extreme sports field. But we never thought that it would be part of pop culture,” shared Kazuhiro Kashio, president of Casio.
“Perhaps it can also be attributed to the fact that we take on new challenges every year. We have done that for the last 35 years and for this upcoming year, we will take on the challenge of producing the G-Shock in a completely new material.”
Touch the Sky
That new material is sapphire crystal, and Ibe unveiled the new G-Shock, machined out of the material, on the Madison Square Garden stage. A single sapphire crystal G-Shock takes at least a month to produce, according to Casio.
Sapphire crystal is a tricky material to work with because it’s incredibly hard. On the MoH toughness scale, it rates around 9, just behind diamond, which is tops at 10. To create an entire band and dial out of sapphire crystal, like what Casio is doing, requires specialised machines.
The Japanese company remained mum on whether this model would be just a concept, like the 18k gold G-Shock it produced back at Baselworld 2015, or actually for sale. We reckon it will be the latter but it definitely won’t come cheap.
“The technical development of the watch is not complete yet,” Ibe admitted but he is confident that the sapphire crystal G-Shock will be officially released by mid-2018.
Kikuo Ibe announces the sapphire crystal G-Shock
It is only fitting then that Ibe addressed the issue of succession, as the 35th anniversary celebrations raged around them. After all, Ibe celebrated his 65th birthday in June last year, an age when most have either retired or are beginning to put their feet up.
The chief engineer revealed that that he had set up a study group within Casio about a decade ago for two purposes, to pass on his knowledge to the younger generation of engineers and use the collective power of the crowd to come up with new concepts. Anyone with more than three years of experience working in Casio is welcome to join.
“I hope that they will come up with fresh ideas, especially those that I have never thought of myself,” said Ibe.
While Ibe contemplates retirement, Kashio explores evolution. Back in August 2017, Casio announced that total worldwide shipments of G-Shock watches passed the 100 million mark, a stunning achievement. But the president of Casio isn’t satisfied.
Kazuhiro Kashio, president of Casio
“Our corporate creed is creativity and contribution. That means producing new products and creating new cultures are the basis of Casio’s corporate activities. Unfortunately, I think that this philosophy has become weaker recently,” said Kashio with surprising honesty.
“We will continue growing our timepiece division in a way that is unique to Casio. In the past, I feel that we were lucky to have geniuses for engineers. Now, I want to establish a sustainable system that will continually create something new, no matter who is at the helm.”
Kashio is right. An empire solely built on the strength of one product is not one that can last generations, evidenced by the rise and fall of former greats such as Creative, BlackBerry and Hewlett-Packard. Once upon a time, Casio used to rule the roost. However, in the past couple of decades, it began selling off parts of its business to other companies to remain competitive.
“I’m reforming the company’s structure and changing the way we do things. In my opinion, many of the major Japanese companies, and not just us, are having this ‘big company sickness’. I think the key is to reduce the size of the main headquarters so that it can become more agile and adaptable. It’s not about laying off employees or restructuring the business but relooking at our work processes. With these changes, I sincerely hope that the timepiece business will continue to thrive,” shared Kashio.
Today, Casio manufactures 8.5 million G-Shocks a year, or an average of 23,200 a day. And when you consider that a G-Shock is meant to be indestructible (at least within the confines of Earth), that means that there are thousands, if not millions, of people who own multiple G-Shock watches.
“When we launched the G-Shock, a few said that the watch repair shops will be in trouble since they won’t have many customers repairing their watches,” said Ibe, chuckling.
That has not come true nor has it adversely affected the sale of G-Shocks, which has only trended upwards. In an era of planned obsolescence, it is heartening to know that a behemoth like Casio still believes in producing products that last. “When we develop an item, we build it with the mindset that it will last at least a decade,” said Ibe.
Throughout the year, Casio will be releasing a series of limited edition timepieces to celebrate its 35th anniversary. But the one we’ve been keeping tabs on is the radical RED-OUT Collection (pictured below).
Almost everything from the brands to the case to even the LCD displays are red. Only the metallic parts have been rendered in black to create contrast. The RED-OUT models are launching in Singapore on February 2018.