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The less known man behind G-Shock

It is likely that many Casio G-Shock watch aficionados have heard of Kikuo Ibe, the watch creator. The other person instrumental in the development of this iconic watch line is Mr Yuichi Masuda.

It is likely that many Casio G-Shock watch aficionados have heard of Kikuo Ibe, the watch creator.

But another person instrumental in the development of this iconic watch line - Yuichi Masuda - has remained relatively unknown.

Yet, it was Mr Masuda who helped propel G-Shock to its position as one of the most recognisable of fashion watches in the world.

The 61-year-old senior general manager of Casio's timepiece division spoke to The Straits Times during a Casio media event in Tokyo last month.

Speaking through an interpreter, Mr Masuda revealed that he did not have an interest in watches in his younger days. But he was inspired by Japanese firm Toyo Rayon, an influential women's fashion firm in the 1960s that has been credited with bringing about a huge change in Japanese society then.

"I wanted to do something with consumer products that can bring about changes in society too," Mr Masuda recounted.

After he graduated from Keio University with an engineering degree, he went on to apply for jobs in several companies. "Casio was the only company that wanted me," he said.

He joined Casio in 1978, starting in the company's timepiece division. His first role was to schedule new product launches.

"That was when I started to develop my interest in watches."

Then came his big break. In 1981, he joined Casio's "Project Team Tough", which was developing an unbreakable watch that would come to be known as the G-Shock when it was launched in 1983.

"The G-Shock developers were very focused on creating a sturdy watch, but they had absolutely no idea how the product should be packaged," said Mr Masuda.

That was when he became involved; he helped the G-Shock team combine the watch's tough features with looks that consumers would find irresistible.

"I was sort of a co-ordinator that brought ideas together to make sure that the G-Shock is what it is today," he said.

The G-Shock project opened up more opportunities for Mr Masuda to work in the other parts of Casio's timepiece's division. He was soon involved in the development of multi-function timepieces for Casio's Protrek and Databank lines, as well as the G-Shock.

He said his constant worry has always been whether the great technology that Casio develops is really what consumers want.

"I want to make sure the incredible technology Casio has can be packaged in a unique way to cater to what consumers want," he said.

In 2003, Mr Masuda became head of Casio's timepiece division, taking over at a time when sales of its digital watches were on a decline after having peaked in 1997.

He knew there was a need to change the company's strategy. So he decided to push for the company to focus on incorporating analogue systems - in the form of physical dials and hands - with the digital innards of Casio's watches.

"It was a drastic measure because Casio has always been about digital and the board members were resistant to the idea. But I had to make the decision," he said.

He harnessed Casio's other digital expertise, such as solar power and radio-controlled timekeeping, to integrate with this new "digital- analogue" direction.

The new direction started in 2004 and steadily propelled Casio's watch sales. For the financial year ended this March, Casio's timepiece division posted record sales of 153 billion yen (S$1.7 billion).

"If I had failed in the analogue strategy, I would have had to leave Casio," he said with a laugh.

Looking back, he feels he has fulfilled his dream of bringing change to society with the G-Shock. This is due to G-Shock creating a new category and changing the way people look at watches.

"In the past, people viewed watches as merely a tool. But thanks to G-Shock, it spearheaded the concept of fashion in watches," he said.

His only regret? That he had not made the Casio's strategic change to digital-analogue earlier.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2015, with the headline 'The less known man behind G-Shock'. Print Edition | Subscribe