You can talk to collectors about high-complication and haute horology till the cows come home but ask them about a watch they’ll wear when they ride into the apocalypse and chances are you’ll hear just one name – G-Shock. Since its launch in 1983, Casio’s G-Shock models have become synonymous with toughness and pragmatism. The icon turns 35 in 2018 but this year, it chalked up a major milestone – it has now sold more than 100 million watches. 

G-Shock models over the years displayed at the Madison Square Garden

I am going to skim over the story of its origin because it’s part of watchmaking lore now – Kikou Ibe (pictured right), a young Casio engineer, vows to create an indestructible watch after a fall destroys the mechanical watch that his father gifted him. The ‘Project Team Tough’ worked through two years and destroyed close to 200 prototypes before creating the first G-Shock, the DW500C in 1983.

A hundred million watches later, G-Shock is still pushing the boundaries as was evident when Ibe unveiled a concept model made entirely out of sapphire crystal during the brand’s 35th anniversary celebrations at the Madison Square Garden in New York City. There were a bunch of 35th anniversary models that were released in the run-up to the event but the sapphire G-Shock was the clear talking point.

The sapphire crystal G-Shock concept watch

“It’s been the secret to G-Shock’s success,” said Hiroshi Nakamura, executive vice-president of Casio when I chatted with him on a chilly New York morning. “G-Shock is about absolute toughness. There is nothing else like it in the market. The original was a unique square model but over the years it has constantly evolved, both on the inside and outside. I have always maintained that the G-Shock doesn’t need to be loved by everybody. The fact is that those who love G-Shocks, adore it and they spread this love to other people. So the key to its success has been its toughness, its constant evolution and the fact that its fan base has grown through the 80s, 90s and up to now.”

Nakamura’s statement about the G-Shock’s fan base was validated that every evening by Adam Craniotes, a well know watch collector and founder of the influential New York-based Red Bar Group, said, “I have visited an impressive number of manufactures, both Swiss and German and for me personally, one of the most exciting experiences I have had was at the Yamagata manufacture where a lot of the G-Shocks are tested and produced. I have met plenty of watchmakers in my time and this man [Ibe] is really my hero,” he said.

Matt Hranek, Adam Craniotes and Kikou Ibe

A Casio veteran, Nakamura has seen the growth of the G-Shock brand since the beginning. While Ibe, Yuichi Masuda and Shigenori Itoh formed the core team that developed the product, Nakamura was responsible for sales. It goes without saying that he’s a treasure trove of G-Shock-related anecdotes. He remembered at the height of G-Shock’s popularity in Japan, thousands of people would line up outside their stores just to buy the latest model.

Queueing up outside flagship stores may now be something we associate with the release of a new iPhone but this is something the folks at G-Shock experienced way back in the 90s.

Nakamura remembers up to 2,000 people queuing outside a store in Tokyo to buy the latest Lover’s Collection (His and Hers G-Shocks) in the late 90s. While handling the European market out of Germany, he recalls how the limited edition DW6610 MTV European Music Awards (EMA) G-Shock was sold at 20 times the retail price in stores because of the demand. “A €150 watch was sold at retail for €3,000, such was the craze among collectors,” he recalled.

The 35th anniversary GW-5305A-1

Back in the domestic market, he told of how the famous Japanese comedian and G-Shock collector Jimon Terakado visited the Yamagata manufacture and insisted on going back with the sanitized uniform slippers that technicians wore at work.

Looking back, Nakamura said none of the original G-Shock crew could have imagined that 35 years on the watch would have sold more than 100 million watches. He reckoned the turning point was the period after the end of the Gulf War in the early 90s when a lot of US troops were spotted wearing G-Shocks. And then once the world of street fashion and extreme sport discovered it, there was an explosion in its popularity. 

The G-Shock x Pigalle DW5600 models

Over the last few years, the brand has made a concerted effort at pushing the price points of its more premium models upwards with limited editions like the $7,400 MRG-G2000HT which featured traditional kasumi-tsuchime metal hammering technique executed by an artisan craftsman in Japan.

“The early G-Shock customer was probably 20 when he bought it back in the 80s. And as the fan base grows older, we needed to introduce models suitable for older fans. The metal G-Shock is tough like G-Shock, is scratchproof and more suitable for the older executive. Since the G-Shock has always been evolving, we were able to push the premium models and they have done well in markets like Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan. This also shows that our customer base is really wide, it is really a strength of the brand,” said Nakamura.

The Rangeman features GPS navigation

The first 35 years have been great, how ready is G-Shock for the next 35? “No other brand has constantly pursued the kind of toughness that we have at G-Shock. It requires a lot of energy to continuously work on bettering and pushing the boundaries and conquering technical barriers. We have many surprises in store for our fans in the coming years,” promises Nakamura.

(You can read the extended feature in the Winter 2017 print edition out on December 15)