G-SHOCK’s 40-year journey: Kikuo Ibe reflects on dreams and the future
We speak with the “Father of G-SHOCK”, engineer extraordinaire Kikuo Ibe, about his conceptualization of the world’s toughest watch and what its future looks like.
I was seated across from Kikuo Ibe-san in the spacious Oceanfront Studio in Potato Head Suites and Studios in Bali. The room was furnished with contemporary wooden furnishings.
Think mod-70s, with wood paneled walls, quadratic peg-legged furniture, and large windows for daylight. The view is a panoramic sight of the Indian Ocean, and just right outside on the grounds of the hotel, construction was underway: The very first Southeast Asia G-SHOCK ‘Shock the World’ event was taking place that night.
For the occasion, Ibe-san wore a striking Aloha shirt that wordlessly expressed his excitement. As he spoke, he occasionally tapped the G-SHOCK on his wrist — the unmistakable squarish design of the very first DW-5000C model that brought his vision to life in 1983.
He grinned widely when I described the watch as his first love, for he very much agreed. “The original design was not to conform to the trend of creating smaller and thinner watches,” Ibe-san shared.
“In order to achieve the ideal level of durability for the watch was to make it thicker and bigger, and this became the limitation for other brands in the 80s because they didn’t want that look. But it’s not just about size. It needed a certain level of knowledge to make it tough like we did.”
G-SHOCK’s four decades of innovation
It’s been a year-long celebration for the brand’s 40th anniversary milestone. G-SHOCK released a series of special editions, collaborating with partners such as New York artist Eric Haze, NBA pro basketball player Rui Hachimura, French apparel brand FUTUR, and most recently, Indonesian rapper Rich Brian. The special GA-2100 model received a seafoam-green treatment with bright pink accents — colors that the artiste recalled from his first guitar as a young boy.
The evolution of G-SHOCK naturally gave birth to new iterations. Forged carbon and resin make up the exterior of the new GCW-B5000UN models in two colorways: A monochromatic black and gray, and a blue-and-pink mix with glittering opal specks.
“The most difficult thing about this model was ensuring its strength,” explained Ibe-san on working with carbon for the G-SHOCK mold. “Particularly for the band, we couldn’t possibly use the same mold as we do for the resin types as it would break easily.
“Hence we created separate links as we do for the full metal versions. Laminated carbon was used to ensure strength, and various current manufacturing methods were incorporated to create this model.”
The G-SHOCK’s real claim to fame was the shock-resistant structure that cushioned the watch’s impact, protecting the digital module within. Ibe-san materialized this concept based on a realization that “shocks are not transmitted inside a bouncing rubber ball.”
He then designed a structure to float the module inside the case, relieving shocks transmitted from outside. This is found in every G-SHOCK watch, and the positions of cushioning points are customized to each kind of material used.
The brand is not looking to develop any proprietary material, but that didn’t stop Ibe-san from fantasizing about material science. “I have a dream material that I really want to use.
“One that when it’s summer, it’s cooling for the skin, and in the winter, it’ll be warm for you … So perhaps in the future.” And how soon in the future? “You know, as long as I live, maybe we’re not gonna get that material,” he said amusingly.
The future is G-SHOCK
So what can we expect from G-SHOCK in the next 40 years? The latest addition to the MR-G series is the MRG-B2000SG that pays homage to a samurai kabuto helmet.
It’s crafted with the utmost precision and cutting-edge technology, featuring a shock-resistant construction, and a bezel that’s been engraved by one of Japan’s premier artisanal metalworkers, master metalsmith Kobayashi Masao, with a rock-grain relief pattern.
It’s quintessential Japanese to keep traditional craft alive, but so is innovation and forward-thinking.
On 9-10 December, the prototype for the recently unveiled Dream Project #2, which found itself in the company of prized Rolexes, Patek Philippes, and F.P.Journes, was sold at the New York NINE by Phillips auction for a staggering US$400,050. (The initial estimates pegged it for US$70,000 to US$140,000.) The one-of-a-kind G-D001 model was a materialization of AI-generated design, fleshing out an 18K gold skeletonized case.
It definitely met the brief of a full-metal shock-resistant structure, but Ibe-san had already achieved this without the aid of AI all those years ago. So what was the goal? “We relied on 40 years of data to aid in creating the ultimate version of our G-SHOCK to date,” said Ibe-san.
“In order to create this version, we combined the framework of our designs with data from AI to achieve optimum impact resistance.” I asked Ibe-san if the recurring Dream Projects are a five-year challenge, considering the Dream Project #1 that created the 18K yellow gold G-D5000-9JR was a 35th Anniversary debut.
“We’re already thinking about number three,” he mused. “It’s a design where we use sapphire crystal. We’ve been working on it for more than five years, but it’s still not completed yet.
“But next year in the Spring, we’re thinking about showing the sample model to everyone. And by that time, please interview me again.”
“I believe that in the near future, there will be a time for us when anyone can freely go to space,” said Ibe-san. “I have a fantasy that if G-SHOCK can be used there, I would go and do stuff like skateboarding, or go mountain biking with my alien friends.”
We laughed, yet at the same time, I knew he meant every single word.
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FROM THE SHOP
|Manual winding Sellita caliber AMT5100, with rose gold plating and custom bridge for Furlan Marri; 58-hour power reserve; heated blued steel screws
|Hours, minutes, small seconds and flyback chronograph
|38mm (46mm from lug to lug); stainless steel with olive-shaped pushers for Honey Blue flyback, Taupe flyback and Tasti Tondi pushers for Salmon flyback; water resistant to 50m
|Taupe, blue, or two-tone salmon and black (Revolution edition); double printed text with pulsations scale, polished applied indexes
|Italian leather with quick release system
|270 pieces per reference + 30 collector boxes (including one of each references) in addition.