Kikuo Ibe is a watch aficionado like many of us. The only difference is that he holds the title of Research and Development Chief Engineer at Casio – a role which has credited him as the creator of one of the brand’s most iconic line of watches, the G-Shock.
The humble G-Shock story is one steeped in both Japanese ingenuity and innovation. Kikuo Ibe always wanted to create a watch that could withstand a significant impact. After dropping his own prized watch on the ground and breaking it, he made it his duty to create something that the timing world had never seen before.
Ibe put together a team called Project Team Tough in 1981 with the sole goal of creating a digital watch which could withstand the rigorous tests of the young designer. As Casio’s test labs couldn’t be accessed at the time, Ibe and his team threw prototypes out of a 10m bathroom window to see if it would survive the impact.
The test would ultimately form the benchmark to which all future G-Shock watches would adhere to. Ibe eventually found the answer in the properties of a rubber ball as a shock-resistant component. The rest, they’d say, is history.
In celebrating more than 30 years of G-Shock, D’Marge sat down with the humble Kikuo-san to find out what makes the Japanese watchmaster tick.
D’Marge: G-Shock watches are used in the military, in space and diving. Are you proud of how far it has come?
Kikuo Ibe: I have always really appreciated the support from people and supporters of our brand. It is one of the reasons why the G-Shock has become such a prolific brand amongst many wearers.
D: When you first created G-Shock, did you ever expect it to be so popular?
KI: No, I didn’t think it would be so popular. Initially, the product development concept was for the workers or police or firefighters. I didn’t expect it to become the big brand like it is today.
D: How did you start watchmaking?
KI: I actually didn’t have any interest in watchmaking before Casio. When I entered Casio and was assigned to the watch department in R&D, it was first time and that’s where my love for watches began. I just graduated and went straight into work for Casio.
D: Do you need to study hard to get a job at Casio?
KI: I didn’t study too much to get the job. At the time when I entered Casio, it was a small company, not as big as it is now.
D: What were your hobbies before you entered Casio?
KI: I loved making plastic models. Planes, boats and plastic kits from Tamiya.
D: What is your opinion of today’s watches?
KI: In my opinion today’s watch industry has three different parts. One is the traditional watch – Swiss brands which have a lot of heritage and I appreciate. Second part is using the newest technology installed into the digital watch. Third is the Apple smart watch which currently has a lot of people’s attention.
These three different types of technology and categories in my opinion are co-existing in the watch market and will never compete in the same group.
D: Will Casio move into any of the two areas you’ve mentioned?
KI: As a Japanese manufacturer, we are always testing the newest technology alongside the growing expectations of our market. As a result, our R&D centre is trialling new technology similar to the Apple watch.
D: How does one become a successful watchmaker?
KI: I spoke to my neighbour and that neighbour gave me good ideas to use in my watches.
D: G-Shock has grown up and moved into the luxury segment with the MT-G. Is luxury a direction Casio is looking to expand the range on?
KI: G-Shock is a shock-resistant watch first and foremost and it is developed for a wide variety of people. So it is important that as people are getting older, we cater to that group. We want to create the G-Shock to fit with those people and to provide watches like the MT-G and MR-G. We want them to wear the G-Shock for many years.
D: What is your definition of the perfect watch?
KI: Whenever I develop a new product I think it is perfect in my head at the time. However, sometimes later on down the track I can think that that watch was lacking in something. So therefore, I don’t believe I have created the perfect watch just yet. I am still working on it.
One point I think does define the perfect watch though is one which can be used on Earth as well as in out of space – maintenance free. That is the perfect watch in my opinion.
D: You dropped and broke your favourite watch which led to the creation of the G-Shock. What watch was it that you dropped?
KI: [Laughs] It is a Japanese maker but not Casio. In order to avoid any trouble I will never mention their name.