A Rare Look Inside Casio’s Secret G-Shock R&D Lab
Want to drop a watch off a 20-story building? You’ve come to the right place.
Just west of Tokyo in the little town of Hamura, Japan sits a nondescript building which houses the R&D lab for Casio. This is the very location where Kikuo Ibe (aka “Father of the G-Shock”) snuck away to a windowed bathroom and dropped one of the early G-Shock prototypes multiple floors onto asphalt. That watch survived and helped the then-secret G-Shock project gain the proper momentum it needed to bring the shock resistant watches to market.
While 35 years have passed since that fateful day in Hamura, Casio’s commitment to building some of the world’s most indestructible watches has not wavered. Watchonista recently had the opportunity to travel to Japan with Casio to immerse ourselves in the now legendary brand’s culture, testing, and manufacturing prowess. This is the first of a series of articles taking you behind the scenes of Casio.
About Casio and G-Shock
Casio is a brand like none other. Originally started as a computer company, the brand now produces everything from calculators to timepieces. Based in Tokyo, Casio has been in continuous operation since its founding in 1957. While much has changed over the course of the last half-century, Casio has continued to innovate in a wide variety of sectors.
Impressively, the company reported ¥321.2 billion yen in revenue for the fiscal year 2017 which translates to roughly 2.9 billion dollars. By comparison, Audemars Piguet just reported 1 billion dollars in yearly revenue. Of their annual revenue, in 2018 it's estimated that 85.4% will be derived from consumer goods, including timepieces, cameras, and other electronic products.
Our trip was eye opening from the very beginning as we discovered the vast array of products manufactured by Casio. From Calculators (where they got their start) to Dictionaries, and even 2.5D printers. The brand does quite a bit. While calculators aren’t subject to the rigorous testing that their watches are, Casio still upholds these qualitative efforts across all of their lines.
And what a lineup they have! From the core G-Shock and Baby-G collections, the brand branches out into numerous other categories and price points, including; Edifice (their racing focused line), ProTrek (adventure), and Smart Watches primarily focused on applications for the active outdoorsman.
Throughout the brand’s history, they’ve endured a wide variety of competition, from traditional Japanese watchmakers (Seiko and Citizen) to the Swiss combatting the Quartz crisis with affordable products of their own, and now to new Smartwatch entries from Apple, Samsung, and many others. Throughout it all, Casio has continued to gain market share and cultural clout. Just recently, Casio reported shipping over 1 billion timepieces globally and just hit the 100 million mark for G-Shock shipments. A monumental feat from a manufacture based on an island only 810 miles long.
The R&D Lab
Throughout our multi-day tour of Casio’s facilities, the brand opened all aspects of their business to inspection by the invited media and retailers. There were plenty of impressive moments which we’ll be covering here on Watchonista, but the R&D lab is at the core of what Casio stands for.
Set inside their Hamura, Japan building on a floor number which we can’t name, is Casio’s R&D center. It’s here the brand tests every product on offer. With model numbers too numerable to count, the R&D lab has to carry a vast array of machines capable of testing everything from shock resistance to mud ingression. The brand boats that their R&D lab is capable of testing 183 unique data points.
Before visiting the lab, Mr. Yuichi Masuda (Director and head of Casio watches) presented our group an extensive overview of Casio’s watch business and strategy. It was clear the brand is a solid vision for the future of their company which focuses on harnessing their strengths and evolving G-Shock concepts to appeal to every generation. A fellow journalist summed up the strategy quite nicely, “from the cradle to the grave, there’s a Casio for you.” While a bit morbid, it’s true.
Its inside the R&D lab is where pre-production prototypes and all new watches from the assembly line are put through a barrage of tests. At the heart of these tests are reliability and durability. The watches are put through 183 individual tests which we’ll get to soon.
You enter down a narrow metal grated corridor, on the walls is a selection of testing devices and the original G-Shock test ball which is an electric tape wrapped rubber ball with an original G-Shock DW-5000C model attached.
These days, Casio watches are as technically advanced as they’ve ever been. Featuring two-way radios, solar charging, Bluetooth sync functionality, GPS, and much more. With all of this technology, it provides some challenges when testing as you now have hardware and software considerations to make.
There are two methods to test shock, and the first method is a vertical assembly which simulates a test from a 10-foot fall on to a solid concrete slab. The next is a caged device which operates on a pneumatic pump that propels the watches down onto another concrete block this time at significantly higher G forces.
After a thorough demonstration of their testing capabilities, we set off to learn more about what goes into the testing of Casio’s product. It turns out, an awful lot. Considerations are made for water resistance, chemical resistance, heat tolerance, shock resistance, impact resistance, electrostatic resistance, and much, much more.
What I found particularly interesting was the mud resistance testing, where a Casio (usually a G-Shock) is submerged in orange clay mud while jets of water circulate mud around the watch while at the same time, all buttons on the watch are tested for their resistance to the ingress of mud. As you can tell from the photos, a pretty marvelous sight.
What’s more, most of the devices at Casio’s R&D lab are made in-house. For each new challenge, the engineers can think up. Machines can be invented to test that very condition.
Casio may get a lot of grief from hardcore watch collectors, but deep down, you have to respect their commitment to quality, reliability, and uniqueness. I really don’t understand this misplaced aggression towards the brand. From our visit, it was clear that Casio operates at a very high level and may house even more advance technology than you’d see in any Swiss manufacture.
Having visited the R&D lab, I certainly feel more confident to give my G-Shock MR-G more of a hard time during my next outing.