Kikuo Ibe, a small Japanese man in his late fifties, speaks little English, so it falls upon a rehearsed speech and a short animated slideshow to tell the story of his monumental watch creation. There are speech bubbles, jokes about Mr. Ibe shrinking in size due to his work exhaustion, and an alien that declares Ibe’s work the best. It is, much like the G-Shock watch that serves as the true protagonist, a little goofy, a little disarming, and very effective.
Ibe is a folk hero among G-Shock fans. The story of how he made the first G-Shock watch, the DW-5000C, in 1983 has become lore. He dropped a watch his father had given him as a present, and it shattered. He then set out to build something that would keep that from happening to watch wearers in the future, beginning by dropping a metal watch case encased inside a rubberized ball from a third-story bathroom window. Over a year later he’d accomplished his goal with a urethane-clad clunker, geometric and futuristic. Five layers of protection plus a floating quartz movement made it able to survive a 10-meter fall, and it had 10 bars of water resistance (330 feet) and a 10-year battery life.
Thirty-three years later, G-Shocks have hundreds of iterations and special editions, the latest of which is a hand-hammered, Japanese-crafted beauty with a $6,200 price tag. All can still survive Ibe’s “Triple Ten” requirement. We asked a few questions about where the venerable brand is headed, and what his favorite G-Shock of all time is.
Photo by Casio.
Q: Were you always inclined to solve such problems as making a watch survive a three-story drop?
A: When I committed to doing such things as building a tough watch, I had to do it. That’s always been my personality.
Q: The G-Shock’s looks are unique. It’s actually become a major reason people wear it — it’s become a popular street style item. Were you focused at all on the watch’s looks when you created it?
A: I was pursuing building the toughest watch. So the design was only based on that concept. It had to be this design to realize the G-Shock’s toughness…. Design can be done by other watch companies, however G-Shock has the toughest construction, and our design is based on that toughness and durability.
Q: What watches do you own?
A: My favorite watch is the first watch, the DW-5000. I own four of the DW-5600, which has the same design as the first watch, in red, white, blue and black. I wear white in summer, red in winter and black and blue in the spring and the fall. But black is my favorite color. But if I were in a country that was always summer, I’d be happy to wear only white.
Photo by Casio.
Q: You have said the next iteration of the G-Shock you’d like to design would be a watch that could be worn in space. What would be the biggest challenges of that design?
A: I haven’t developed the concept yet, but it is my dream. The environment of space is totally different. I’d like to develop a watch that can be worn outside of a spaceship. The first priority, and the most difficult part to develop, would be making it durable against great heat.
Q: It would seem like G-Shock would be perfect as a smartwatch. Do you know of any plans for one?
A: I know about the development of a smartwatch. I have to think about what kind of situation would be best suitable for a G-Shock smartwatch. That’s the most important thing. I would have to think about it… Technically it is possible.
Q: Recently there’s been news that the Swiss watch market is in decline. Do you think there will be great change in the watch market over the next 50 years? What do you think the watch market will look like?
A: I wanna be the one who survives. [Laughs.]