Journalist and author since 1981
What I wanted to do on September 9 2015 was take the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Yamagata. That is where Casio manufactures its premium range watches, including the well-known, high-end G-SHOCK models. But it rained all day and I was stranded in Fukushima. The platforms were flooded and there was no question of getting anywhere by bus. Even the very durable Mudmaster, normally capable of coping with almost all everyday situations, couldn’t help out this time. So I went back to the Japanese capital.
Which is why I shall now have to limit myself to what I saw and heard there. What was particularly impressive was the “torture chamber”. New models of the G-Shock, which was originally launched in 1983 and has undergone continuous development ever since, have to withstand the stiffest torture there before being approved for market.
I would like to tell my readers a little bit more about the Far East electronic giants before I go into the various tests in more detail. It is one of the Big Three in the land of the rising sun, alongside Seiko and Citizen. Yet unlike their Japanese rivals, Casio only manufactures quartz watches. So traditionally mechanics is not their thing. The reason for that is in the company history. They were founded in 1946 by Tadao Kashio and his three brothers - Toshio, Kazuo and Yukio. In April of that year they founded the Kashio Seisakujo, the Kashio factory.
In 1954, the ambitious foursome and a team of suitably experienced colleagues developed their first calculator. It contained both electronic components and mechanical parts.
None of the Kashios gave mechanical watches a second thought. Electronic watches were also far from their thoughts due technology restrictions. Progress came with important inventions in the field of general electronics: semiconductor theory in 1932, a rapid digital calculator in 1941, transistors in 1948, integrated circuits in 1959, printed circuit boards in 1961 and then microchips in 1964.
And while we’re on the subject, we must not overlook Pierre Curie, who discovered the piezoelectric properties of silicon dioxide in 1880, thus making it useful to the watch industry. When the Americans Joseph W. Horton and Warren A. Marrison presented their Crystal Clock in 1928, they still needed multiple electronic valves. The history of those goes back to 1904.
Compared to the development process lasting centuries that mechanical timepieces had to go through, the development of quartz watches came on in leaps and bounds in just a matter of decades. The 1950s were especially productive for the Kashio brothers. While one product was being tested, the next was already in the pipeline and the one after that was on the drawing board.
Transistors were still in their infancy, the instruments that could measure time to within one hundredth of a second still contained valves and were gargantuan in weight and size. To work for ten hours it needed large rechargeable batteries that contributed 23 kilos to its 35 kilo total weight.
In Japan, meanwhile, the Kashio brothers were fascinated by equipment that would make complex calculations easier for people. In 1957, they pulled off a world first in the 14-A: a calculator with no mechanical parts.
With one eye on the international market which they wanted to provide with innovative electronic creations from Japan, they needed a name that was both memorable and easy to pronounce in all languages. And so Kashio Seisakujo became Casio Computer Co. Ltd. Let me just give a few examples from their vast range of products:
1965 saw the invention of an electronic calculator with its own storage memory. 1967 saw the arrival of the AL-1000 programmable calculator. Casio were able to sell a million Minis, the world’s first personal calculator, within ten months of its launch in 1972.
In 1969, people began to wear quartz wristwatches. In 1973, James Bond glanced at a Hamilton Pulsar P2 2900 with digital LCD display in Live and Let Die.
Casio were on the ball in 1974 too. The Casiotron had a perpetual calendar, in other words the electronics could deal with the months of different length. They were not afraid to adapt to the market either. When red LEDs were decried as battery-guzzlers in 1978, Casio reacted quickly, moving over to the more efficient LCDs .
In recent years, these wristwatches have enjoyed great popularity as retro models.
Casio’s age of quartz watches with an analogue time display and rotating hands dawned in 1982, while the importance of analogue-display wristwatches has become increasingly important since 2003.
When it comes to wristwatches, 1983 can be seen as one of the most remarkable and important years in the company’s history. The author of this wristwatch revolution was Kikuo Ibe, the product: the G-Shock. The G-Shock’s extreme durability in all situations sent ripples through the watch industry, initially starting in the United States before taking over the world. The watches ability to withstand a fall from extreme heights impressed enthusiasts and this was no coincidece. The G stands for gravity.
According to the legend surrounding its origins, he is said to have been inspired by a child playing with a bouncing ball. His idea was that if a watch was packaged in the same way, no harm would come to it, no matter how rough the treatment. The Casio engineer’s motivation came through personal experience. He had dreamed of an unbreakable watch ever since his father’s timepiece had slipped out of his hands and smashed into its individual parts as it hit the floor.
But all the developments based on his bouncing ball experience didn’t live up to his great expectations. He must have hurled a good 200 creations out of the third-floor window of the Casio building in Tokyo. None of them lived to tell the tale.
The key in the end, was a sort of floating suspension bracket in the inner electronics wrapped up in a shock-resistant case made of elastic material. Ever since, centrifuges, hammer blows, defenestration and sweat or water attacks have not been a problem. As I was able to see with my very own eyes at the Tokyo test laboratory, the G-Shock is withstands even the toughest of conditions.
But let’s go back to the G-Shock’s early years. The black G-Shock DW 5000C-1A, waterproof to 20 bar, was anything but an April Fool when it finally appeared in Japanese stores on April 1st, 1983.
At ¥11,400, or €90, it wasn’t cheap. But for the money you were getting something unique and it’s kept its character right up to the present day. Success came thanks to an ad in the USA where ice-hockey players hit a puck with a G-Shock attached to it with all their might.
Casio had to be a little patient before that success was repeated around the globe. Only once the design was systematically reworked in the early 1990s and new colour options became available was their path to sales in the millions unimpeded. The long-awaited product finally came onto the market in Central Europe in 1994.
I was impressed by the shock-resistance, waterproof qualities and multifunctional electronics at that year’s Inhorgenta watch fair in Munich. The proof that Casio had hit the chronometric nail on the head was a rapid increase in demand. Many people lent active support, including actor Keanu Reeves and various MTV presenters.
At Inhorgenta in 1997, Casio had to confess to a massive supply bottleneck for the G-Shock models, which specialists didn’t like one bit. Meanwhile, G-Shock blossomed into its own brand. You will now only find the name Casio in extremely small letters if you really look for it on the almost indestructible timepiece. The proof of 33 years of success, even if erratic, is that well over 70 million G-Shocks have been sold in more than 100 countries.
And yet it is hard to overlook the variety of what has come since the very first launch. As I discovered on my trip to Japan, over 3,000 different models have been created in the design departments since that first watch came into existence. Casio launched 74 G-Shocks in 1994, the year they came onto the European market. To give you just a couple of instances of this unprecedented explosion, in 1997 there were 135 new models and in 221 in 1998.
Casio brought out the considerably more feminine Baby-Gs, including the sky-blue BG-340SV-2V model, in 1994. Small wonder, then, that not only the number of models exploded but so too did the number of G-Shock fans and collectors around the world.
Casio learnt the hard way that all good hype must come to an end at the turn of the century. Competition affected sales, there were differences of opinion regarding style and the advent of the mobile phone and then smartphones raised major questions about the need for a watch.
After a huge decrease in turnover from 2000 on and then losses in the years thereafter, Casio managed to turn things around with what board member Hiroshi Nakamura called “a drastic remedy”. The company had to be more innovative, smarter and quicker than their rivals. The philosophy bore fruit. Casio would like to increase growth once again, especially in watch sales, which account for a good third of their overall turnover. To spur this growth on, the managers have identified the premium price range in the environs of €500 and up and demanding young men aged 30 plus who love their gadgets. They hope to win these men over with new case materials and high-end tech. This includes automatic Global Time Sync, GPS and useful functions that work in conjunction with your phone.
G-Shock has seen a remarkable renaissance since 2009, triggered by a number of factors. Those factors include its cult status in the USA and the hip hop and extreme sport scenes as well as the analogue time displays. That new desire for a tough watch, such as the Mudmaster, opulent in both the way it looks and functions, found its way over to Europe too and gave them the comeback they were after in the Old World.
Before I go, let’s have another look at that “torture chamber” I mentioned at the start. To visit, one has to make one’s way to Hamura, where Casio’s research and development centre is located. No stone is left unturned before the guinea pig makes its way out into the big wide world.
To simulate a long fall, they are first hoisted aloft mechanically. The upwards movement simultaneously tenses massive coil springs which sends the G-Shock hurtling to the floor once released.
Elsewhere in the test laboratory, a manually operated 5kg hammer strikes the case. The impact sends the timepiece flying into a net.
Possible new models also have to be tested on their resistance to centrifugal forces. A camera mercilessly films how the G-Shock stands up to 12 G or more. If the time function conks out or the watch becomes unstable, improvements will be called for. In some models, ultra-light carbon hands guarantee stability in the most rigorous of circumstances.
A tensile test checks how well the strap and its mount are attached to the case.
Furthermore, the watches have to spend time in artificially created and malodorous sweat which I could smell myself. Or in tanks of water, freezers and fires.
There is almost no limit to the staff’s imagination. G-Shock samples will have successfully completed about 50 ruthless tests before being released for sale to potential customers. Any watch that fails the test is shown no mercy. Chief engineer Kikuo Ibe and his team tend to them afresh.
The brand new MTG-G1000AR obviously passed all these endurance tests with flying colours. Don’t be fooled by the nostalgic look. This G-Shock has any number of state-of-the-art functions.
The “sandwich” shell, water-resistant to 20 bar and made of synthetic resin and ionised metal, is naturally Triple G Resist-certified, meaning it is resistant to dropping shocks, centrifugal gravity and vibrations.
The movement picks up GPS signals at 1575.42 MHz. It also recognises long-wave time frequencies all over the world. The signals it receives are used to adjust and show the time several times per day.
Standard time in 27 cities (40 time zones, daylight saving on/off, automatic adjustment to daylight saving time), Universal Time Co-ordinated (UTC) with direct access, switch between local/home time zone
Stopwatch, countdown timer, alarm, day of the week and date display, automatic calendar, battery warning
Solar charging system for the power reserve.
Dimensions: 58.8 × 54.7 × 16.9 mm
Total weight approx. 198 g
And all for just €1,900