Casio’s analogue revolution

November 2012

Kazuo Kashio, President and CEO of Casio, likes to say, “If it isn’t revolutionary, it’s not a Casio product.” You might think that this is merely a marketing slogan, but if you look a little closer, you will see that it is a real conviction, anchored in the history of a company that today is a very powerful conglomerate with a turnover of €2.8 billion and a workforce of nearly 12,000 people around the world.
We can better measure the company’s accomplishments when we realise that Casio was founded in 1946, in the ashes of a still smoking Tokyo, by Kazuo’s older brother, Tadao Kashio (deceased in 1993), who was soon joined by his three brothers. From a very poor family and forced to quit their activities after the serious earthquake in Kanto in 1923 (more than 100,000 deaths), the four Kashio brothers would go on to build an empire starting in 1954, with the introduction of the very first prototype of a revolutionary calculator. Compact, completely electronic, it was a world first that they commercialised in 1957 under the name of Casio 14-A. The Casio Computer Co. Ltd was thus born. This was only the beginning in a long line of revolutionary products: the 001 in 1965, the first office calculator with a memory, the series AL-1000 in 1967, the first programmable electronic office calculator and the Casio Mini, in 1972, the world’s first pocket calculator.

Entry into watchmaking
It was the immediate and dazzling success of the Casio Mini that solidified Casio’s entry into the world of watches in 1974 with the launch of the electronic watch Casiotron. The industry was then in the middle of the quartz revolution—quartz watches are technically “nothing other” than calculators that count the pulses of a quartz oscillator. Entering the domain of watchmaking would thus allow Casio to develop even further the technology that it had introduced for its calculators. In a way, it was seen as a natural evolution. In a Japanese watch industry entirely vertically integrated from production to distribution, it was difficult to be an independent producer and gain access to the markets. After two years of experimentation, the introduction of the digital Casiotron marked the beginning of the watch saga of the Kashio brothers. This timepiece displays its numbers in a liquid crystal format and, for the very first time, was equipped with an electronic perpetual calendar.

The G-SHOCK shock
The brothers’ saga would reach worldwide proportions a few years later, in April 1983, with the launch of the very revolutionary G-SHOCK. Today, 30 years after its birth, nearly 60 million G-SHOCK watches have been sold. Quite understandable when you see the striking design of this immediately recognisable watch, a watch that is extremely robust under all conditions and that can be thrown from a high building with no damage.
The story of the G-SHOCK is not over, far from it. Just look at the current craze for this timepiece, which can take on a thousand different appearances (including an analogue display) and can incorporate many technologies (radio-control, solar power), plus, of course, its many functions.
With its G-SHOCK, Casio has become a recognised player in the watch arena and is among the top ten largest watch groups and brands in the world in terms of turnover. This impressive feat has been accomplished by following a very particular approach: elevate the watch from a simple “tool” indicating the time and turn it into a veritable instrument for the wrist, a device that can provide all sorts of information—calculator (appeared in 1980), dictionary (1982), GPS (1992, world first), digital camera (2000) etc.
But beyond these functions, Casio has also been ingenious in developing high-performance technologies, including radio-controlled time, and the advanced use of solar power, as was demonstrated in 2001 with the brand’s ana-digi WVA-300, the first solar-powered watch to be radio-controlled. These accomplishments have been made possible because of Casio’s varied technological developments in the fields of miniaturisation and low energy consumption.

In the G-SHOCK range, one of the stars of the year is a model that has a powerful appearance thanks to its golden sun brilliance combined with a rugged black resin case (ref. GA-110GB-1AER). Equipped with a new spherical concave dial that confers a sculptural depth to the piece, it is automatically illuminated by an LED light (you only need to turn the wrist), and features a chronograph measuring a 1/1000th of a second as well as universal time, five daily alarms, perpetual calendar, and water-resistance to 20 bar. It is, of course, also an antimagnetic ana-digital G-Shock that is ultra solid.

Analogue ambitions
Launched in 2000, the Edifice collection epitomised Casio’s ambitions in the domain of the analogue watch. With Edifice, Casio intends to win market share in a sector that represents, as a reminder, the most important part of the watch market. Casio’s current share of the analogue market is marginal. But to succeed, Casio has no intention of competing head-on with Swiss watchmakers. It prefers to capitalise on its own specific assets and its mastery of electronic technologies and functions.
Targeting a young, active and urban clientele, Edifice intends to give a new analogue face to the brand’s advanced technologies. Composed only of steel watches with very clean and contemporary styling as well as unbeatable value for money, Edifice will soon propose three distinct ranges of timepieces: the original “Active Racing Line”, inspired by motorsport; the “Solid Urban Line”, the most stylistically pure range; and the “Advanced Marine Line”, inspired, as its name suggests, by nautical sports, with its water-resistance to 20 bar.

An emblematic model
As an example of the particular qualities of the Edifice range, let’s look for a moment at a new emblematic model that concentrates on Casio’s technical advances. Baptised EQW-A1110DB-1AER, this chronograph is equipped with the “Smart Access” and “Tough Movement” systems. So what do these terms mean? The watch comprises a series of motors (up to five) that independently drive the hands of the hours, minutes, and seconds. This “autonomy” for the different hands permits very precise multi-functional displays. The various functions are then selected and activated by the “Smart Access” System thanks to an electronic crown that makes this operation easy, immediate, and intuitive. The wearer can also instantly go from a normal time display to the chronograph mode (which can record up to ten lap times), as well as switching between different time zones, passing automatically to summer time, and instantly displaying universal coordinated time (UTC). The “Tough Movement” system features a solar power source for the watch, radio-control, an automatic correction device for the position of the hands in case of time differences and a hybrid mount designed for great shock resistance. In the area of solar power, Casio has made great strides by drastically reducing the power required for the watch, to the point that it no longer needs a back-up battery, but only an accumulator, making it completely autonomous (and environmentally friendly). In addition, the solar panel has been totally integrated into the dial, and is totally invisible. This independence is strengthened by the multi-band radio-control that lets it capture time signals from six different transmitters around the world (two in Japan and one each in China, the USA, Germany and Great Britain).

EQW-A1110DB-1AER by Casio
EQW-A1110DB-1AER by Casio

Technology and design to serve the wearer
As the management of Casio likes to say, “the goal is not to put the maximum amount of technology into a watch, but rather to use technology to make the customer’s life easier.” It is in this same spirit that the design of the Edifice range was conceived—to reflect, with the greatest readability and simplest appearance, the technology contained in the timepiece. Two square sub-dials are placed on a vertical axis, and their sharp lines accentuate the functional appearance of the watch. The 24-hour function is at 12 o’clock, while the selected mode and function indicator, including an alarm, is at 6 o’clock. At 9 o’clock, a vertical scale evoking a gauge in a sports car indicates the power reserve and the activation or deactivation of radio signal reception (this function consumes a lot of power). These different indications harmoniously coexist and offer great readability on the 33-mm black dial surrounded by a raised edge comprising the hour markers, scale and the names of 29 cities throughout the world with their respective time zones. The very readable dial, protected by a mineral glass, is animated by two imposing white luminescent hands and a delicate red hand. The 43-mm case has strong and striking lines, compact lugs and refined finishing.
The electronic crown is screwed in for greater protection and the bezel is placed on a bright red aluminium ring that emphasizes the dynamism of the piece. At the top of the range (€649 for the black PVD model and €499 for the steel version), this Edifice chronograph is offered on a steel bracelet. A very special watch can be seen on the wrist of Sebastien Vettel, two-time Formula 1 world champion with the Red Bull team and a contender for a third victory. Casio is the “smart and tough” sponsor of the team. Adding to the range
Further chronographs complete the expanding Edifice range: a very classic and elegant city chronograph with a real carbon dial that is both chic and vigorous (ref. EFR-520SP-1AVEF); a solar-powered chronograph accurate to 1/20th of a second and a much more technical appearance, with the “Smart Access” System (ref. EQS-A500DB-1AVER). This well-positioned and consistent offer should open distribution avenues for Casio that are more selective than those of the brand’s current products and reinforce its advances in the domain of the analogue watch.

EFR-520SP-1AVEF by Casio
EFR-520SP-1AVEF by Casio

EQS-A500DB-1AVER by Casio
EQS-A500DB-1AVER by Casio

Source: Europa Star October - November 2012 Magazine Issue