A look back at the history of the Casio G-Shock
In 2017, Casio is celebrating the 35th anniversary of this classic collection. It’s time to have a look at their success story.
For many of us, the Casio G-Shock was the gateway drug for our watch collecting addiction. My first was a plastic and fantastic Baby-G — a smaller spinoff of the wildly successful OG (Original G-Shock). It was translucent green with bull bars. I wore it even after the free loop on the strap broke, which I then replaced with a hair elastic. As a testimony to how popular the watch was, even in its sorry condition, it still got stolen. In fact, of the three watches that I’ve lost to nefarious reasons, two were G-Shocks.
While every serious watch collector has one in their collection, there are some who amass only G-Shocks. And that isn’t easy because the brand releases over a hundred new models a year. In fact, the company shipped its 100 millionth G-Shock in August. It was a black and red MRG-G1000B-1A4 model, inspired by traditional samurai armor and part of the MR-G luxury range.
But what appeals most about the G-Shock is its innovation. It was connected two years before the Apple Watch dropped. Fantastic innovations such as radio-controlled, atomic timekeeping and sensors that calculate direction, barometric pressure/altitude, and temperature make them useful tool watches. And Casio continues to take the G-Shock into the future with the new materials and expanding connected technologies.
The origin story of the G-Shock begins in 1981 Casio’s head of watch design, engineer Kikuo Ibe, wanted to make a watch that wouldn’t break even if dropped. The name G-SHOCK comes from Ibe’s goal of creating a watch that could withstand the shock caused by gravity. Ibe and his team of three engineers had three design criteria — called the triple ten: It had to be able to withstand a 10 meter drop and 10 atmospheres of water pressure, and it had to have a battery life of ten years.
It would take over two years of drop-testing 200 prototypes before “Team Tough” came up with a hollow watch case structure that supported the core module — a quartz mechanism floating in a urethane foam cradle.
This became the first G-Shock, the DW-5000C.
Believe it or not, the G-Shock was a slow starter. The square, chunky case was practical, but not pretty. In 1984, after an ad showing a hockey player using the next iteration of the G-Shock (the DW-5200C) to take a slap shot aired in North America, the watch quickly became popular amongst outdoor enthusiasts, firefighters and police officers.
More importantly, the timepiece took off with skateboarders on the west coast of the United States and Hip Hop heads on the east coast. In 1990, the DW-5900C, with its innovative Tri-graph liquid crystal display, was a huge hit in youth culture. Strangely enough, it was the G-Shock’s success in the US that made it a hit in its homeland of Japan. Japanese kids could not get enough of American youth culture at the time and were actually importing G-Shocks from the west.
Basically, the G-Shock made digital watches a desirable signifier (although they also started offering analog versions in 1989). Since then, these Casios have been made even cooler through limited edition collaborations with artists and streetwear designers such as Takashi Murakami, Maison Martin Margeila, Stussy, Bathing Ape and more.
What has kept the G-Shock from becoming the horological equivalent of other, flash-in-the-pan 1990s trends like Hanson and chain wallets is that it is always reinventing itself. In 1997, after seeing a sales dip, the company refocused its efforts away from fashion and back to the basics of shock resistance, tough performance and new technology.
New models began to evolve in function and performance. The GW-300 (2002), for instance, was equipped with radio-controlled and solar- powered technologies, and the GW-9200 (2008), could receive time- calibration radio signals from six stations worldwide.
The 1990s also saw the evolution of the look of the G-Shock. The first Frogman diving model with water resistance to a depth of 200 meters, was introduced in 1993. The more upscale, metal cased MRG series made its debut in 1996. The 2000s saw the introduction of Tough Movement, solar-powered radio-controlled timepieces. And to mark the G-Shock’s 30th birthday in 2012, came the Smart Access system which enabled smooth operation of a wide range of functions.
Time, of course, never stands still. By 2014, the GPW- 1000 offered a hybrid time acquisition system, allowing it to receive time- calibration signals from both GPS satellites and six radio transmitters worldwide. Most recently, in May 2017, Casio released the GPW-2000 Gravitymaster, which featured the Connected Engine 3-Way module, receiving both radio wave and GPS satellite time calibration signals, while also connecting to timeservers by pairing with a smartphone.
There’s something about the combination of new technology and limited edition designs that tickles the completest nature of a collector. The Frogman dive watch series, with its asymmetric cases and Tough Solar modules, is probably the most popular. They come in many colorful options and fans have given them hip nicknames like The Brazilian, Snake Killer/Poison Frog, Men in Yellow, Black Helios and Black Spots.
The Frogman was also the first G-Shock to come in Titanium. Experimenting with materials is all part of the plan to bring the brand beyond street style and into the luxury market by using high end ingredients and artistry.
The MRGG1000HT "Hammer Tone" is the most expensive, mass-produced G-Shock made to date (somewhere out there is a one-of-kind, 18K gold classic G-Shock made by Mr. Ibe himself, but that’s another story). The bezel and bracelet center links are decorated with a hammering technique known as Tsu-i-ki with a Kasumi finish. This traditional method creates unique relief patterns through hammering, all hand done by one craftsman, Bihou Asano of Kyoto. It takes him six months to complete the work on each of the 500 limited edition pieces.