G-Shock celebrates 20th anniversary

G-Shock founder Kikuo Ibe's first watch for the brand was launched in 1983. Launched to celebrate the 20th anniversary of G-Shock's premium MR-G line, the MRG-G1000HT watch (above) is made with titanium.
G-Shock founder Kikuo Ibe's first watch for the brand was launched in 1983. PHOTOS: MARCUS TAN, CASIO
G-Shock founder Kikuo Ibe's first watch for the brand was launched in 1983. Launched to celebrate the 20th anniversary of G-Shock's premium MR-G line, the MRG-G1000HT watch (above) is made with titanium.
Launched to celebrate the 20th anniversary of G-Shock's premium MR-G line, the MRG-G1000HT watch (above) is made with titanium.

Japanese watch brand G-Shock is no longer just a rugged watch - it now also has the refining touch of master artisans. That is what founder and creator Kikuo Ibe is starting to do.

The married 64-year-old says through a translator: "We aim to combine the advanced technology of our watches with Japanese craftsmanship."

For the 20th anniversary of its premium MR-G line, the brand worked with third-generation tsuiki artisan Bihou Asano on the MRG-G1000HT watch, which was released last month.

Tsuiki is a traditional Japanese metal-working method where a sheet of soft metal is hammered into shape. Copper or silver are commonly used, but a harder material, titanium, was used for the watch.

Only 300 pieces of the watch were made and fewer than 30 pieces are available for sale in Singapore. Each retails for $8,888.

One of the first places the brand looked to for craftsmen was Kyoto, a city known for traditional crafts such as washi, a type of handmade paper; and nishijin-ori, the art of weaving colourful yarns into decorative fabrics.

There are plans to collaborate with other Japanese craftsmen for future MR-G watches, he says, and this may be extended to the other G-Shock lines such as Master of G, which is targeted at individuals who work under extreme conditions, such as pilots, land rangers and navy men.

Depending on the model, some G-Shock watches come with features such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) and sensors for temperature and altitude.

The brand was born when Mr Ibe, who joined parent company Casio as an engineer in 1976, decided to create a watch that would be resistant to damage.

The first watch, the DW-5000, was launched in 1983 after two years of research and development.

Prices range from $159 for a G-Shock digital watch, such as the G7900 which has basic time, stopwatch and alarm functions, to $11,888 for a limited-edition G-Shock MRG-G1000RT Nie model that launched last year and is sold out.

Mr Shigenori Itoh, Casio's senior executive managing officer and senior general manager of global marketing, says the company has enjoyed "double-digit growth in Asia continuously for the past three years". He declines to reveal sales figures.

Mr Ibe's focus is not only on creating premium, artisanally crafted watches, but also affordable yet high-quality watches.

The affable man estimates that "45 per cent" of his time is spent thinking of new Casio watches for people from developing countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh, many of whom work overseas.

He says: "We're already selling watches with batteries that you don't have to change for 10 years, so I have to think about what other new developments I can come up with".

Noticing that most of these migrant workers wish to know the time difference between their home and host countries, he developed a watch that allows the wearer to see the time of three countries at a glance. He says that these watches will be sold soon, but declines to give a specific date.

Another watch, which is already in the market, allows users to programme up to five alarms a day. The idea is that the alarms will remind users to take their medication.

Casio watches start from $19 for one with a resin strap.

He says earnestly: "I believe that when you buy something, it doesn't matter whether it's cheap or expensive as long as you really love the item.

"Most of the time I'm thinking, 'How can I make people happy?'"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 11, 2016, with the headline 'An artisanal touch to a rugged watch'. Print Edition | Subscribe