In fusing design and technology, Casio’s now iconic G-Shock watch defied gravity. It also shattered the reputation of the watch as a fragile piece of jewelry.
The Casio G-Shock watch holds a special place in the hearts of many. There are few non-mechanical watches that inspire collectors as much as the iconic G-Shock. The story of the ubiquitous and cherished G-Shock watch is directly tied to its battle against the laws of nature.
Born from a Dream
Kikuo Ibe was heartbroken after he witnessed a watch given to him by his father shatter to pieces as he dropped it. Kikuo, an engineer at the Head of Watch Design for Casio, vowed to create a reliable timepiece that could withstand major impacts and drops.
In 1981, he assembled a tight-knit team of three expert engineers with to goal to perfect what they called the Triple 10 philosophy. The watch had to withstand a drop from 10 meters, resist 10 atmospheres of water pressure and it had to have a battery that lasts ten years.
They spent two years of painstaking experimentation and over 200 prototypes. The so-called “Team Tough” still found themselves far away from achieving their lofty goal. It wasn’t until it came across a stroke of inspiration at a local playground in the form of a bouncing rubber ball. He visualized that the center of the ball doesn’t suffer the same shock as the exterior. So he focused his designs in the same manner.
After more rigorous testing and tinkering by Ibe and his team, they had something that worked. They created a hollow case structure made from urethane foam. This casing guarded the timekeeping module with the help of gel cushioning material at the key pressure points to protect the watch’s vitals. They also crafted the protruding points on the case and bezel from urethane to protect the buttons and glass in all directions.
The G-Shock DW 5000C was resistant to all forms of high G-forces, drops and heavy vibrations. It was available in April of 1983 and gave a new meaning to the word durable.
Rise into Pop Culture
In its early days, the chunky case of the G-Shock failed to capture the hearts of the masses. Early advertisements showed a hockey player taking a hard slap shot wearing a G-Shock watch. That helped establish its early reputation as the “toughest watch in the world” under extreme conditions.
In this utilitarian niche is where its early following came: extreme athletes, first responders, outdoor enthusiasts and military personnel. Its casing assured protection against extreme levels of shock resistance and also featured a ten year battery, 200 meters of water resistance and the digital functions that remain integral to G-Shock today.
By the 1990s, the G-Shock watch model had established a place among skateboarders on the west coast and the hip-hop community on the east. The release of the DW-5900C with its innovative Tri-graph liquid crystal display was cherished among youth. From youth across the country and the release cemented its image as a staple in these subcultures of fashion and streetwear. The upscale metal casing of the MRG series made its debut in 1996 with its ability to be worn both dressed up and casually.
Drawing upon this success, Casio opted for high-profile collaborations within the realms of streetwear such as Stussy and BAPE in 1997 and 1998 respectively. These models were fashion statements as much as anything else. It’s something that continues to this day with notable limited edition collaborations. From Wu-Tang, Maison Martin Margiela, Burton and Takashi Murakami. Ironically, its rise into pop culture in America made it popular in its home nation of Japan as well. At the time, American pop culture was trendy among Japanese youth.
The G-Shock watch was in constant reinvention. That’s what made the timepiece more than the plethora of novelty trends from the 90s. Trends such as sneakers that lit up and chained wallets. The G-Shock was more than simply a flash-in-the-pan that came and went with the times.
After a incremental dip in sales towards the end of the decade, Ibe and Casio began to shift its focus. Going away from fashion, streetwear and pop culture in favor of the performance capabilities that made the model famous in the first place. Which was: shock resistance, tough performance and innovative technology.
In 2000, Casio introduced the GW-100. It was the first radio-controlled model to be able to receive time-calibration radio signals from one of six worldwide stations.
Never Give Up
Time never stands still and neither does G-Shock, which seeks to constantly reinvent itself. It has become synonymous with independence, innovation and pushing the limits. The blend of its peculiar aesthetic and stubborn toughness made the G-Shock watch an instant favorite among utilitarian crowd. But its beloved place in pop culture caused it to define an entire generation.
It’s one of those rare products that transcends its category into the realm of a cultural phenomenon.