Born of a desire to create a watch that never breaks, the Casio G-Shock is revered by many as “the toughest watch on the planet”. But it is much more than that. The G-Shock is universally respected, avidly collected, and loved by everyone from Navy SEALS to tree-hugging tech nerds, a watch that gives new meaning to the word “durable”. But where did it come from? Let’s go back to the beginning.
When development of the G-Shock began in 1981, Casio’s head of watch design was engineer Kikuo Ibe. Ibe pulled together a project team of just three members and called them “Team Tough”. There were really only three design criteria — the so-called triple ten — for the watch he had in mind: withstand a 10 meter drop, withstand 10 atmospheres of water pressure, and have a battery life of ten years. It would take over two years to release the first G-Shock, the DW-5000C. Ibe and his team had to work through some serious difficulties on the way.
As the number of prototypes passed 200, Team Tough was still far from the design solution they sought. It was then, on a chance visit to a playground, that Ibe got his stroke of inspiration: a bouncing rubber ball. Ibe finally visualized the shock-resisting system that forms the basis of all G-Shock watches. He reasoned that the center of the ball doesn’t suffer the shock that the exterior does. He and his team set out to design a watch to resist shocks in a similar way.
The case of the G-shock is hollow and the timekeeping module is supported with soft gel cushioning material at only a few key points within. In addition, vital parts of the module itself are protected from impact with additional cushioning material. Protruding points on the case and bezel are made of urethane and protect the buttons and glass from impacts from any direction; even the strap is specially designed to aid in isolating the watch from impacts. All of these features help protect the G-Shock from concussions, high G-forces (such from as auto or air racing), and heavy vibrations.
As for the name of the watch, Ibe said the “G” referred to the shock of a fall. A human being might be subjected to many shocks from many different situations (sports, fights, etc.), but Ibe thought a fall would be the toughest thing a person might endure and still live. The watch wasn’t meant to be unbreakable regardless of how far it fell. Rather, the intent was that the watch would remain working after any fall the wearer could survive.
The resulting watch, with its peculiar aesthetic and stubborn toughness, launched an immensely popular line with a unique blend of utilitarian-focused (military members, adventurers, extreme sports athletes) and street cred-centric (hip hop artists, street style aficionados) followers. And there have been numerous milestones over the three decades of the G-Shock’s history. The first analogue/digital model appeared in 1989. In 1993 the first true diver’s watch, the Frogman DW-6300, with 20 atmosphere water resistance, was released. The first titanium model, the Frogman DW-8200 came along in 1995.
In 2000 the GW-100, the first radio-controlled G-Shock, appeared, able to receive calibration signals from one of six worldwide locations for more accurate timekeeping. Other features have appeared over the years: resistance to low temperatures and dirt and mud, built-in temperature and pressure sensors. A Bluetooth-enabled G-Shock that will connect with a smartphone was recently released, making the G-Shock an early contender in the smart watch wars. A new “Metal Twisted G-Shock” chronograph even recently broke ground for the line in terms of luxury offerings — it costs upwards of $900.
In fact, numerous models in several series are released each year, with basic models receiving updates every spring and fall. One online listing of released models by year shows as many as 200+ models released each year. The peak occurred in 1998 (221 models released). Recent years have seen between 100 and 150 models released. These numbers boggle the mind and show just how popular the G-Shock is around the world. In fact, over 70 million G-Shock watches have been sold since that first unit hit the sales floor in 1983. To celebrate G-Shock’s 30th anniversary, in 2013 Casio threw a huge party in New York City in August complete with 30th anniversary releases, a slideshow of prototypes still in development, and a nightcapping performance by Eminem.
Popularity leads to collecting. Perhaps most popular version is the Frogman line. The Frogman is part of the Master of G series, also known as the “-Man” series: Frogman, Mudman, Gulfman, Riseman, Antman, Gaussman and others. With nicknames like The Brazilian, Snake Killer/Poison Frog, Men in Yellow, Black Helios and Black Spots, who wouldn’t want to collect these watches? Numerous limited edition Frogman models — or “Frogs” — have further whetted the appetites of collectors everywhere. And collecting is aided by the modest MSRP of these watches. Much of the collection is under $200, though prices range up to $650 for some of the Aviation series. Compared to other highly collectible digital pieces, where the prospect of spending four figures is not unheard of, that’s downright affordable.
Long a favorite of the military, law enforcement, first responders, athletes, outdoorsmen and hip-hop artists the world over, the G-Shock shows no sign of letting up as it moves into its fourth decade. Seldom has one watch (particularly one so ugly) had such broad appeal. It is one of those rare products that transcends its category to become a cultural phenomenon. In fact, the durability of the G-Shock itself may only be exceeded by the durability of its appeal.