Watch designer Kikuo Ibe on 30 years of G-Shock

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G-Shock celebrates its 30th anniversary next year and to celebrate has been hosting events worldwide, launched numerous collaborative timepieces and hosted its first awards. Kathryn Bishop meets G-Shock’s chief engineer of module development Kikuo Ibe.

At a G-Shock event you often find yourself packed next to colourful hipsters, each one trying to outdo the other with a flash of a neon legging or an ironic accessory, but the man so cool he is responsible for the founding of this tribe is not among the show-offs.

Standing quietly to the side, but keenly observing the melee, is Kikuo Ibe, the man I’m here to meet, the man responsible for creating one of the modern watch industry’s most powerful icons, the G-Shock.

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G-Shock’s flagship standalone UK store in Covent Garden is the venue for our interview and around us G-Shock watches are being put to the test in machines that push their limits of durability against gravity and impact. Today these tests are sophisticated but back in 1983, when Ibe and his team were testing the first prototypes for G-Shock the process was far more rudimentary, and exciting.

“Never give up, that has always been my motto,” explains Ibe, referring to the story of how the watch brand was first born. Back then he and his fellow designers were given a mission to create an unbreakable watch, and so they spent a lot of time dropping prototype watches from a third-floor window in Casio’s research and development building to test what happened after such a serious impact.

The team made 200 prototypes, all of which smashed. A few adjustments to the casing ensured that the timepieces cases survived the fall but the electronics still suffered upon impact. Ibe says he left no stone unturned in his quest to solve this issue, but it was a chance encouter that provided him with the solution. While walking through a park he passed a girl bouncing a ball and this gave Ibe his very own Newton-apple moment as he was struck by the inspiration to create a G-Shock with a floating circuit. This design has remained the base of G-Shock watches as we know them today.

The first G-Shock timepiece hit shelves in 1983 – the DW-5000 – a watch rather different to the rounder, chunkier G-Shocks of today, but one that survived the utmost force. To prove this the brand ran it over, dropped it from helicopter, blew it up and, memorably, strapped it to a hockey puck and had it hit with brute force for a TV commercial that the brand says instantaneously sealed it’s unique qualities in the minds of consumers the world over.

As time went on, the brand began to play with the watches’ functions, making G-Shock more of a lifestyle brand tailored to divers, desert environments and mountain climbing. Solar powered models, titanium cased designs and analogue models have also followed. But the appeal of the watches has evolved over the years, however, and while their functionality remains a key selling point, they have also become fashionable with musicians becoming unconscious ambassadors for the brand – rapper Dizzee Rascal, singer Justin Beiber and producer Pharrell Williams have all been photographed wearing them.

G-Shocks have also appeared in movies such as Speed, Mission Impossible III, Bad Boys and Entrapment, on the wrists of Brad Pitt, Sean Connery and Tom Cruise.

The brand will officially celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2013. Celebrations are already very much underway; each month in 2012 has brought a fresh timepiece or special event to celebrate the brand’s achievements with the young, lively and innovative people it feels it sits alongside.

In the UK G-Shock has collaborated with east London fashion designers, driven its branded double-decker bus to the Wireless music festival in London, hosted an awards ceremony and after party with fashion magazine Dazed & Confused, and launched its £2,500 Mr G model in to the market, a timepiece that appears to explode from its own rock-like display case in the Covent Garden store.

To date, more than 70 million G-Shock watches have sold worldwide, in almost 100 countries. It is easy to understand the brand’s appeal. Entry-level price points, eye-catching marketing, collaborations with a who’s who of niche artists and fashion designers, and even crossovers with snowboarding brands and the RAF. The brand’s early adopters might have grown up but G-Shock has adapted and evolved, and remains a force to be reckoned with in the watch market here in the UK and round the world.

 

Q&A: Kikuo Ibe, chief engineer of module development, G-Shock

WatchPro: Congratulations on 30 years of G-Shock – has it been an interesting journey of design?
Kikuo Ibe: Yes. G-Shock is not just a fashion watch, it is also the latest technology watch, so every year has had something new. We work that each watch is 50% technology and 50% design, so they balance out. As we are now celebrating 30 years, it’s about letting everyone know what we do and celebrating across the world.

WP: Over the years the watches have developed massively and now include a full metal G-Shock, the Mr G, which has arrived in the UK this year – tell us more about it
KI: We first launched 30 years ago and so now our customers who have grown up, go to work, cannot wear a classic G-Shock, they want a metal timepiece, so that’s what we made. It now appeals not only to a new customer but to G-Shock customers who have got older. The UK market enjoyed a big boom in G-Shock in the 1980s and 1990s and so we have redirected the brand to fit them.

WP: G-Shocks are often colourful but rugged. Where do you get the inspirations for G-Shock’s style and development?
KI: In Tokyo, in the R&D centre, there is not just me but a team behind me. We study the latest fashion trends, not just in watches but in clothing, design and colour. The design teams then present their ideas to the development team who work on the technology side and they discuss together to reach final designs.

WP: Where do you see G-Shock in the next 30 years?
KI: I only speak Japanese. Last year I travelled to 26 countries, where I tried to speak a little of their language, but I cannot communicate with the media, or people I meet. It is my dream to one day create a G-Shock that will have a translator to allow us all to communicate. So maybe in 30 years we can talk properly through the watch. [laughs]

This article was taken from the December 2012 issue of WatchPro. To read the magazine online, click here.

 

 

 

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