The “Father of G-Shock” Kikuo Ibe reveals G-Shock testing secrets, including an Australian bus The “Father of G-Shock” Kikuo Ibe reveals G-Shock testing secrets, including an Australian bus

The “Father of G-Shock” Kikuo Ibe reveals G-Shock testing secrets, including an Australian bus

Zach Blass

Whenever we review sports watches on the site, robustness is always a topic of discussion. Shock-resistance, scratch-resistance, water-resistance, etc. But, with these mechanical watches, the conversation is a bit romantic. While Rolex Submariners and IWC Pilot’s Watches may have once been the best tool for the job, if we’re being real, there are no watches more robust than a G-Shock. The Casio sub-brand is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, and over the last four decades and 140 million watches sold, it remains a cultural phenomenon and titan of the industry. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Kikuo Ibe, or the “Father of G-Shock”, to discuss the story of his creation, and what is ultimately at the core of of its origins and identity – robustness.

Zach Ibe san

G-Shock was born due to one fateful sidewalk collision

It’s kind of wild to think that, had Ibe not bumped into another pedestrian walking down the street one fateful day, G-Shock would not exist. After colliding with a passerby, the bump was hard enough that the strap of the watch broke – leading the watch to fall and break beyond repair, with both the caseback and hands dislodging upon impact. While he would not disclose the maker of the watch that belonged to his father, he would tell me it was a three-hander with a calendar complication made by a Japanese manufacturer. In the death of his father’s watch, the idea of G-Shock and the famed triple-ten resistance principle was born.

In 1981, Ibe would begin working on prototypes for what would become the first G-Shock watch. G-Shock stands for “gravitational shock”, and the triple-ten resistance principle would guide the parameters for what a G-Shock needed to have in respect to durability. Why 10? Ibe explained: “So basically, triple-ten started with 10 metres high, the actual height of dropping the watch so that it can be resistant. And that set the tone for the rest of the tens – 10 bar and the 10 years of battery life. So the 10-metre height was what we started with, but then at the time, there were a lot of watches that already had a water resistance of 10 bar. So we decided to go for 20 instead. We were actually elated we could achieve a depth rating higher than our original goal, but, in terms of the battery of life, instead of 10 years, we were able to achieve seven at the time.” This is in reference to the first-ever G-Shock watch, the DW-500, which made its debut in 1983.

The TV ad that slapshot G-Shock into a worldwide winner

G-Shock didn’t take off right out of the gate, but a TV advertisement launched the same year is largely attributed with kickstarting the interest in the brand. A 15-second television spot, the video displayed a hockey player taking a shot on goal – using a G-Shock watch in place of a hockey puck. This was a visual demonstration anyone watching could understand, immediately piquing the interest of viewers – particularly in America which is a major market.

The advertisement communicated, with flair, what G-Shock was all about. Of course, behind the scenes, Ibe and his team had performed a variety of stress tests such as running over a G-Shock with a bicycle and a car, and, the original test, dropping one out of the third floor window of the Casio Research and Development Centre (which was precisely 10 metres above the pavement). With this advertisement, however, everyone began to want the watch that could survive a slapshot of a hockey professional.

The most intense stress tests ever performed on a G-Shock

G Shock Bus
Image: John Ward

With a story so intertwined with toughness, I had to probe Ibe for what was ultimately the most intense official stress test ever performed on a G-Shock watch. While I am American, by association I was surprised and proud to find out the most extreme test happened in Australia. Ibe explained: “It was actually in Australia we had, I guess, the most intense stress test. I was in Sydney for an interview, and the interviewer was asking me, ‘Why don’t we do a test? Why don’t we have the G-Shock being run over a huge bus, for example?’ When he proposed that idea, in my head, I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, no, I can’t do that.’ But I felt I wasn’t in a position where I could say no. So, we went through with it and then it survived! So that was the biggest stress test, in Sydney.”

elephant g shock
Image: Brandon Daniel

Ibe also remembered he had once come up with the idea to have an elephant step on a G-Shock for a stress test. “One idea I had, but couldn’t actually pull through with, was having a G-Shock stomped on by an elephant. I thought that was a great idea,” Ibe explained, “but then I thought, what if the elephant’s foot was injured, for example? Then we would have a problem with the zookeeper and whatnot. So I thought, okay, I shouldn’t go ahead with that idea.” Were they able to enlist the world’s largest elephant on record for such a test, which weighed 24,000 pounds, the stomp would have subjected the G-Shock to a weight equivalent to just over two school buses. Now, I cannot speak to the exact type of bus that was used in Australia, but theoretically, the hypothetical elephant stomp test could have been twice as intense as the most intense stress test ever performed on a G-Shock. Also, to be clear, the average African bush elephant weighs 13,000 pounds, so had the test actually been performed it would likely have been a little over par in comparison to the bus test.

What would it take to kill a G-Shock?

When I asked Ibe about any field tests where a G-Shock had failed, he did recall one G-Shock-killing idea in particular that was actually proposed by the imaginative mind of a high school student. Ibe recalled: “I was once at a high school, invited as a special lecturer to give a classroom talk to the students. And the last question that one of the students gave us was ‘Are there any tests that can actually break down a G-Shock? What would be the thing that would actually break G-Shock?’ And my answer was, ‘Well, we had lots of tests in the past and it never broke down.’ But the high schooler came back and said, ‘Why don’t we shoot with a pistol?’ And I said, ‘Well, we’ve never done that. It probably wouldn’t. Maybe it wouldn’t survive.’ So I guess we’ve never done it, but I guess it could have been the killer.”

Ultimately, there are only a few incredibly extreme ways we know a G-Shock can be broken. One is through extreme temperatures human beings would never encounter naturally. Should your G-Shock find itself in temperatures below −30°C or above 60°C for long periods it would be hard-pressed to survive. Interestingly, the concern for temperature toughness also stemmed from the idea of transporting or shipping the watches to stores and customers. Ibe said: “The reason why we set those temperatures is a result of thinking about the logistics of how the watches are being transported. For example, if it’s actually being crated by air, you can think about how the plane can be quite cold inside to make sure that it can withstand the logistics of a journey. And also during summertime when it was being delivered by a truck, obviously it can get quite hot. So we would actually keep that in mind to make sure that it can withstand.”

Another means, as seen in the above Teddy Baldassarre video, is a drop from 100 metres out of a helicopter. In other videos, which are again not official controlled tests performed by G-Shock, I would see a G-Shock break as well. But these tests involved one watch undergoing back-to-back torture tests where the watch would eventually give out. For example, in a Revolution Watch video, a G-Shock watch is broken with a baseball bat and golf club – but this is after the watch had previously survived being boiled, frozen, and run over by a car.

My challenge for G-Shock

After all of this stress test chat with Ibe, I was inspired with what I believed to be a really neat idea. What if G-Shock were to make a watch that, in place of a module, used a fully mechanical movement? Ibe would then return serve with a question of his own. He said: “At the moment there is no plan to collaborate with another mechanical watch company, so that’s one thing for sure, but this is a question to you: is it really going to be a big shock and big fanfare if G-Shock collaborates or integrated with a mechanical watch?”

I cannot divulge our conversation on this matter in full, but my case to him centred around the idea of sticking it to the Swiss watch industry, creating a truly robust watch the self-proclaimed kings of the industry had yet to realise – something Ibe and G-Shock are far too polite to have as a spark of motivation. Were G-Shock to create a truly ultra-robust mechanical watch that is not bogged down with asterisks of romanticism we acknowledge with fully mechanical watch icons, it would be an absolute game-changer that could shake up the watch world. I also cited the Omega x Swatch MoonSwatch as an example of how collaboration could be internet-breaking. Of course, such a G-Shock would mean a mechanical movement that could match up to the robustness of a G-Shock’s externals. There would have to be zero compromises to the core triple-ten resistance principle. So, very much easier said than done.