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Tuesday September 23, 2008

Smashing success

By S.S. YOGA
yoga@thestar.com.my

The world’s first unbreakable watch, G-shock, is now 25.

IN 1983, a breakthrough occurred in the watch industry. It got consumers all excited and sales went through the roof. It was the birth of the Casio G-Shock, the first so-called unbreakable watch.

Kikuo Ibe, Casio’s research and development chief engineer, was part of the team that designed the original G-Shock. – Pictures courtesy of CASIO

This wasn’t the first major innovation from Casio, considering a similar breakthrough in 1974 when their Casiotron model introduced something we now all take for granted. It was the first digital watch with a perpetual calendar.

Anyway, the first G-shockwatch, DW-5000C, ironically, received only lukewarm response in the country of its origin, Japan. But it was an unqualified success overseas.

The Japanese came around to the charms of the G-Shock in time. Now there are rabid collectors and connoisseurs who come together to discuss in minute detail new collections and particular pieces that are from the same “lineage” as the original model.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the G-Shock. To celebrate the occasion, events have been held in various cities around the world. So far New York, Tokyo, Seoul and Taipei have marked the affair.

Singapore had its do recently in a hotel in the city, with Casio bigwigs from Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore in attendance.

It was quite a pedestrian affair, though, and not without glitches. Short speeches, some video presentations and entertainment by up-and-coming Singaporean band Electrico marked the day. There was also a section with exhibits displaying information on the history of the G-Shock.

But the whole experience was saved by one man, Kikuo Ibe, who was part of the design team of the original G-Shock. Ibe is now Casio’s research and development chief engineer.

The label Remix fuses various cultures and styles into a line inspired by street culture, extreme sports and hip-hop.

“In 1981, I dropped my watch and broke it. I was quite upset as it was a watch given to me by my father. I decided I needed to develop a watch that would not break,” said Ibe, who accompanied his amusing anecdote on the origins of the watch with an equally entertaining set of cartoon graphics.

He described how he went to the first floor toilet of the office building and, from the window, dropped a prototype of his design to the ground below. It broke.

He then dropped more watches, from the second and third floors, and finally, there was a watch that didn’t break. But while the body was still intact, some of the parts were damaged. Undeterred, Ibe vowed to never, ever give up!”

He worked 24 hours a day and “even in my dreams I was still thinking of how to make the watch.”

Later, when he was watching a boy playing with a ball, Ibe came up with his now famous “floating” technique. This is where the module of the watch is suspended in the centre and only connected to the casing at minimal points, employing a triple-protection design for the parts, module and case.

The limited edition watch to commemorate the 25th anniversary of G-Shock.

The initial aim was to get the best water resistance and long-battery life. But the ultimate result was a watch that survived a drop from 10m. Hence the name G-Shock to denote gravity shock. Its ability to absorb forces was employed by Ibe to poke fun at his own height: “I’m short because the G-Shock absorbed all my energy!”

Today, the watch is still popular with rescue workers, police, astronauts, firemen and the military. It’s easy to understand why. G-Shock has also updated its range with more stylish collections for men and women, and even one for teenagers called Baby-G.

In conjunction with the anniversary celebrations, three young urban designers were asked to come up with their own limited edition pieces of the GW-M5600 watch. They were Singaporean Mark Ong of SBTG (who was present at the launch), Sam Lee of Hong Kong’s Subcrew and Taipei’s Kenji Sato from Remix Clothing.

Ong is a graphic designer who is known mainly for pimping up shoes. He has done work for and collaborated for labels like Nike, New Balance, Atmos, Chapter, and Mike Shinoda and Joe Hahn of Linkin Park fame. His signature style is using camouflage and military symbolism, hence the name SBTG, which is short for Subterfuge. Ong has now launched a clothing line called Royalefam.

Subcrew is a popular streetwear brand in Hong Kong while the label Remix fuses various cultures and styles into a line inspired by street culture, extreme sports and hip-hop.

And if you’re hankering for one of these collectible pieces, you’ll be disappointed to know that they will not be available in the market. The commemorative G-Shock timepieces were only produced for the celebratory events and given out sparingly to selected individuals.

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