40 Years Of The Casio G-Shock With Inventor Kikuo Ibe
40 Years Of The Casio G-Shock With Inventor Kikuo Ibe

The cult status that G-Shock has acquired over four decades has been the result of a combination of breathless innovation and inventive marketing. We spoke to the man who invented this global phenomenon on the occasion of the watch’s 40th birthday celebration in Mumbai

In 1981, Kikuo Ibe, a young engineer at Casio then known for its famous calculators, was asked to work on the design of a new unbreakable watch. He was in many ways the right man for the job. He has had a bad experience with a favourite watch not long before that. “My very first watch was given to me by my father to celebrate my acceptance to high school. I was cautious in handling my watch, but eventually one day I dropped it, and it smashed into several pieces,” he said in an old interview, “I was in disbelief; however, I also felt quite bewildered during my inadvertent experiment. If you drop it really does break.”


Casio’s brief to him was called a `Triple 10’ development concept, aimed at developing a watch for 10 years of usage, 10-bar water resistance, and 10 meter-drop shock resistance. It turned out to be a very challenging task for Ibe, and it would be months before he could make a breakthrough. As he recalled later “Even when we increased the strength of the components, there were always variations in the overall strength due to the materials and their shapes. Ultimately, it was always the weakest part that had to bear the load.”


(Photo by JB Lacroix/Getty Images)


But Ibe persisted. Driven not just by his own sentimentality of having seen a favourite childhood watch shattered by a fall, but also by the plight of road construction workers who he saw toiling outside his office building, who had no idea of lunch time because they could never wear a watch for the fear of it breaking when using heavy equipment. “As I drove by construction sites, I would notice that no one wore a watch, obviously because it would break. But in this line of work, being outdoors there is no clock to rely on. For example, I’m sure there were times they were burdened by not knowing when it was time to go to lunch. I wanted to make a watch for them.”


He finally had his eureka moment while watching children playing with a rubber ball in a park when the idea struck him. “If the watch was inside the ball, it might withstand stronger impacts,” he told himself. Thus, was born the basics of the G-Shock’s design which continues today: a floating structure supporting components between fixed points.


Ibe had the prototype tested by running it over by a truck and dropping it from a tall building. The watch survived in perfectly working condition. However, like all good product designers, he was circumspect about the results. “Even if you succeed 10,000 times there is always a fear that it will break 10,001st time. Under those circumstances `tough’ had such a crucially important meaning. I eventually concluded that the meaning of tough is ambiguous. I realised that it had to be tough in all areas and I had to take on the responsibility for making it so. I was responsible for quantifying those numbers and giving them meaning,” Ibe revealed in the old interview. He told his employers that if the outcome of G-Shock were not favourable, he would resign from the company.


G-SHOCK_DW-5000C. First Ever G-SHOCK


He didn’t. Two years of rigorous testing, and 200 prototypes led to the creation of the world’s most robust watch in 1983, the DW5000C with a distinctive digital display framed by a black polyurethane bezel and wristband. It was the starting point of the G-Shock phenomenon, though it did take time to pick up pace. The watch was not very easy to sell in the early days, and to Casio’s credit it did not give up. Gradually sales picked up and by the early 1990s the watch had become a global brand.


Casio ’s never-give-up attitude, matched by a consistent effort at technological and design innovation has been the hallmark of G-Shock’s evolution over the last four decades, and the reason why it eventually became a worldwide bestseller. Every two years, and sometimes even annually, would develop a new version with enhancements, some minor, others significant, all areas —material, features and functions.


In 1987 came the big selling DW 5600C; 1989, the analogue AW 500; 1990, DW-5900 with its triple dial design in a resin case; 1992, DW 6100, the first G-Shock with a sensor; 1993, DW-6300, the first Frogman diver’s watch; 1998, DW-9300, the first solar model which converted even small amounts of light into power; 2000, GW-100, the first radio controlled G-Shock; 2007, GS-1001 a five motor chronograph with seven hands which provided a wealth of information including a 1/20- second stopwatch, day-date and 27-city world time; 2010, GW-3000BD with solar power, radio signal time adjustment, night display, world time, 1/100 second stopwatch, automatic calendar, daily alarm, etc; 2013 was the year of the GF8230A-4 Frogman which ran on solar power and had features like atomic timekeeping, tide and moon graphs, dive timers with data memory, 48-city world time, 1/100th second stopwatch, countdown timer, 12/24 hr formats and a multitude of alarms; In 2018 there was the GA-135A-1A_JR whose unique matte black finish was the result of a coating with particles that diffuses reflection of light which usually suppresses colour and lustre.



And the innovations have continued. Just a few weeks ago, to celebrate G-Shock’s 40th anniversary, the company launched a new lighter version of its successful metal GMWB5000, called GCWB5000 in carbon — GCWB5000UN-1 in black, and GCWB5000UN-6 in shades that stretch from magenta to violet including one in galactic purple. At around 67 grams you can hardly feel the watch on the wrist.


Five years ago, during its 35th anniversary celebration, G-Shock announced the shipment of its 100 millionth watch. The pace of production and sales has continued. These staggering figures were achieved not just because of consistent technological and design innovations. G-Shock would have remained a tech nerd’s watch weren’t for the company’s hugely creative marketing exercise over the decades which has led to it being positioned as a cutting-edge lifestyle and fashion accessory around the world.


The brand’s marketing footprint is spread across wide-ranging areas including sports, adventure, music, fashion, and art. And the stars in these fields who it partners with are among the hippest in the business, with worldwide appeal among trendy youngsters. They in turn help provide G-Shock the `cool’ quotient. In India, which was part of its recent Shock the World the global musical tour to celebrate the brand’s India’s 40th birthday, the festivities were headlined by actor Vicky Kaushal who has been a G-Shock enthusiast since his college days. In addition the brand has also unveiled the first-ever India TEAM G-Shock,


a group of athletes and artists who personify ‘Absolute Toughness’. The members include cricketer Shubman Gill, rally racer Harith Noah, rapper Paradox, Best Break Dancer, Red Bull Athlete Arif Chaudhary and skateboarding stars Sagar Waghela, Jay Singh, Nikhil Shelatka and Kushal Gaikwad, and India’s leading breakdancer and Red Bull athlete, Arif Chaudhary.


Vicky Kaushal with the G Shock team including Kikuo Ibe on the right


On the sidelines of the Mumbai event, Man’s World spoke to Kikuo Ibe, who had specially flown down, his third visit to India.


Man’s World: Did you anticipate this level of success when you first developed the Casio watch?
Kikuo Ibe: No, I never thought it would become so successful. Our journey owes much to the support of people, and we are thankful to everyone.


MW: It took quite a few years before G-Shock became a success; did you ever feel disappointed?
KI: Initially, we faced failures in the business. We introduced only black colour initially, but later, with the introduction of various colours, it took off.


MW: Casio entered the market during the digital watch era. Analogue watches have since made a huge comeback. How did G-Shock survive the change?
KI: When we started, we had competitors like Seiko, but what set us apart was our special technology and features in digital watches.


MW: The story goes that your father gave you a watch that broke, and you wanted to make an unbreakable watch. After that, you started adding more tech and features. What motivated you?
KI: My father gave me a watch in high school, and years later, it broke. That incident made me contemplate how to make an unbreakable watch, leading to the addition of more features and technology. The whole idea of G-Shock is about not giving up, translated into our products with new features and technology.


MW: There’s a story that you made a truck run over one of your watches during the development stage. Is this a true story?
KI: I’ll show you the video of our test.



MW: Casio has had hundreds of models over the last 40 years. Pick your three favourite models.
KI: G-Shock DW 5600, AIFQ, A15Q – these three are digital. The fourth one is an analogue, MQ24. These watches stand out for their longevity and popularity over the past 3-4 decades.


MW: As an inventor, Casio is as much a marketing success as a watch. How much do you think marketing has contributed to making it a cult watch today?
KI: Casio presents watches in various lifestyle forms. In India, our marketing team has effectively conveyed the right message about the products. We believe in mass marketing in India, and that’s why we’re here celebrating 40 Years of G-Shock with our Indian team and fans.


MW: In the age of Apple watches and Fitbits, how will Casio adapt to stay relevant?
KI: I like Apple smartwatches. While Casio produces smartwatches, our products’ longevity is what helps us survive.


MW: Where do you see Casio in the next 5-10 years?
KI: I’d like to create a watch that can survive in space and wear it with my alien friends (laughing) It’s not the company’s opinion, but my opinion.


MW: As one of the great inventors in Japan, how do you look back on your own life and achievements?
KI: I do not see myself as an achiever; I am a common man. I want to get into farming.


MW: What is your message to your fans in India?
KI: Overcome difficulties, and you will achieve success, regardless of the size of your endeavour.


contact us :
Follow US :
©2024 Creativeland Publishing Pvt. Ltd. All Rights Reserved