The story has become a modern legend: Kikuo Ibe, creator of the G-Shock, dropped a beloved timepiece gifted by his father, and as it cracked on impact, he became determined to design the toughest watch in the world. It took more than two years and more than 200 prototypes — many of which were tested by dropping them from a 10 meter-high bathroom window at Casio’s offices. He eventually got it right and the original G-Shock DW-5000C launched in 1983.
Ryusuke Moriai’s first sketches for G-Shock.
G-Shock quickly became the favored timepiece of skateboarders in Japan, and as more iterations were developed, it launched into full-on cultural phenom status. Though that might have been a surprise to some of its top-tier staff members, they’ve stuck at it for decades continuing to push the design and durability standards of the brand. Earlier this month, the G-Shock team set up an exhibition — with walls of product from G-Shock’s inception to present day — at Madison Square Garden in New York. The one-night event celebrated the brand’s incredible legacy over the last 35 years, starting out from one man’s solo quest to make a nearly unbreakable timepiece. We caught up with G-Shock’s head of R&D Tatsuya Izaki and head designer Ryusuke Moriai while in New York celebrating the line’s 35th anniversary — to talk personal milestones, toughness-testing, and outer space.
Ryusuke Moriai, G-Shock’s Chief Designer
GP: In the early days, did you ever imagine that G-Shock watches would become such a cultural phenomenon?
Tatsuya Izaki: I’ve been involved in G-Shock’s development since 1992 — I joined Casio 1986. G-Shock already existed at that time — that was almost the 10-year anniversary — and actually, at that time, I didn’t think that the popularity would continue. I was always just looking five years ahead. Then all of a sudden, G-Shock was celebrating 15 years, then 20, then 25.
GP: Now that you’re at 35 years, you must be looking ahead again to the next milestone. What do you think will happen to G-Shock in 15 years?
Izaki: When I started on G-Shock’s development in 1992, I was in my late 20s and now I’m 54. Twenty years ago was totally different for me. In 1992, the more premium G-Shock didn’t exist. Now that I’m getting older, I want to wear more classic styles like the steel MT-G-series G-Shock. Probably 15 years from now, when I’m 70-years-old, I’ll want to develop a G-Shock for people in their 70s. That’s my aim. I have to take care of the younger audience too, of course. But when I’m that age, I’ll want to develop what I want to wear as well.
GP: When you’re developing these more premium models, do you ever have to compromise on the toughness, on the core of what G-Shock is? How do you make a luxury model without losing that and without losing your core base?
Izaki: The G-Shock began as a mainly plastic watch and then we started making watches in this different style and with different materials. We had to overcome the difficulty of adapting to new materials so that the toughness is same even if the watch is metal. We have very, very high standards to meet so we have to test a lot. When we launch a new model, we are never, ever losing out on the toughness of G-Shock.
Ryusuke Moriai: We never compromise absolute toughness. To go to a new toughness standard — to come up with this metal models, we needed to develop new materials, a new structure, and still always keep toughness as a concept.
GP: In the beginning when Kikuo Ibe was designing the first G-shock, he was throwing prototypes out of the bathroom window. You’re probably not doing that anymore — how do you test the watches? What are some of the methods that you have for determining durability?
Izaki: Actually, until five years ago, I did throw watches from the bathroom window. But now we have equipment around the R&D center that creates the same conditions as dropping it and we have various other ways of testing them, as well.
Moriai: It’s not only the shock that we’re testing but there are several tests we do for the G-Shock. For example, there is one for vibration and then, for example, there is a machine that would produce the same impact as a throw from the window. And there’s also a water-resistance test and a metal hammer test.
GP: Part of the identity of G-Shock is pushing forward, always making something tougher, more technological. So I wonder where that motivation comes from. Do you ever think, ‘Okay, we did it; it’s done. We can just kick our feet up’?
Izaki: For me there are two motivations. As I explained before, I started in the development of the G-Shock in my twenties. Now that I’m in my 50s, the audience is totally different by age. I want to produce for the younger audience to the middle and to the older ages. That is one motivation. And then another motivation is that, currently, after 35 years there is so much G-Shock-mania across all ages. Their expectation for G-Shock is really high and they are always looking for — waiting for — what the next “wow” product will be so that is another motivation to continue to produce the G-Shock.
G-Shock’s Head of R&D, Tatsuya Izaki
GP: Kukuo Ibe wants to make a watch that can go into space and be out in the elements there. Are you actively pursuing that?
Izaki: Yes, we’re already starting. For now, G-Shock is the toughest watch wherever we go — in the air, on land, at sea, everywhere on the Earth — and we’re proud that we’re the toughest watch in the world. Of course, then there is an expectation from outside of our company and also within to have that kind of dream. We can’t imagine how hard it would be to survive in space but we’ve already started thinking about it. We have that dream.
GP: Do you have a favorite G-Shock model — one you’re very proud of working on over the past few decades?
Izaki: I wear the original G-Shock 5600 because the function is really perfect. But as far as the model I’m most proud of, it’s a new Mr-G release, MRG-G2000CB-1A, a new kurozonae themed model. The watch has so much function: GPS, Bluetooth, every function to adjust watch. And material-wise, it’s the most expensive material we use. So I’m proud of it.
Moriai: I’ve designed many, many G-Shock models but my first G-Shock, called DW4600, is my favorite. It’s from 1994 and it’s not being produced anymore. But it is my first one so it’s also my most favorite. It was inspired by a Japanese cartoon predator from a movie, so we called it the “Predator” G-Shock.