The watch is catapulted down a rod at high speed and is crushed on a concrete slab. Then a five-kilo hammer strikes it, hurling it into a cushion that has been shredded all over. It is then placed in a centrifuge and filmed while it turns in a crazy fashion on its own axis, reaching 12 g or more. Hung vertically from two hooks attached to its closed strap, it is then twisted and pulled in all directions. Finally, plunged into a tank, it is subjected to pressure, fire and ice…
- A G-Shock is subjected to over 50 tests.
We are in Hamura, in the “torture chamber” at Casio’s research and development centre, some 60 kilometres east of Tokyo. The watch that has been subjected to this violent torment is a G-Shock, the one that claims to be the world’s most resistant. Vibrations, wear, resistance to shocks, differences in temperature… in all it is subjected to over 50 tests. Nearby, a small man smiles as he observes the scene from behind his round spectacles. He is Kikuo Ibe, chief engineer of Casio’s Module Development Department but first and foremost the inventor of the G-Shock. He is happy to explain the circumstances of its invention, even accompanying this with a small manga comic in which he features with a youthful air. It all started 32 years ago, when Mr Ibe, who was already working at Casio, dropped his watch and it shattered. Despondent, he decided to create a watch that would withstand this type of adventure. The way in which he did so is quite amusing. “At the time you could only buy thin watches,” he explains, “so I took a watch and I added rubber protection before dropping it from the toilet window on the second floor of this building, then from the third floor, a height of 10 metres. The watches broke. So I covered a watch with rubber protection. Then it worked, but it was unthinkable to have a rubber watch, it looked like a pumpkin...” Kikuo Ibe therefore decided to construct a watch case from scratch, consisting of five layers of protection and shock absorption. “This was better, but inside some of the electronic components did not withstand the shocks.”
- Kikuo Ibe
The despairing Mr Ibe could no longer sleep. He was thinking about the problem 24 hours a day and it became a genuine obsession and a torment. But he did not give up. One fine day, in a park, while he was still mulling the problem over, he saw a young girl playing with a ball. Then the idea came to him: he would literally make the movement float inside the five layers of protection. The G-Shock was born.
The first G-Shock appeared on the market in the USA in 1986. An advertisement was filmed for the launch: the watch was used as the puck in a hockey match. American consumers had their doubts: is it real, this watch that is being hit with a hockey stick? Is it real, this watch that emerges unscathed? So tests were organised and filmed in public, like the one with a huge truck that drives over the watch.
The G-Shock saga may begin. The USA, then later Japan and finally the rest of the world made it into a triumph. To date, around 65 million G-Shocks have been sold...
Mr Ibe and the managers at Casio had not expected such a huge success. “I thought that those who bought this watch would be workmen who used pneumatic drills,” Mr Ibe admits with a smile. But while its success is due to the watch’s genuinely exceptional robustness, it is also because of a special combination between this robustness, a strong design and Casio’s own special approach to watchmaking.
Because Casio is an atypical watch brand and did not start out with the measurement of time but with that of figures, launching the Casio 14-A, the world’s first fully electric calculator, in 1957. And it was the phenomenal success of the Casio Mini, the world’s first pocket calculator launched in 1972, that gave the company the idea of integrating this know-how, which was becoming increasingly miniaturised, into a watch. This heralded the group’s entry in to the field of digital watchmaking with the Casiotron electronic watch in 1974.
- Tokyo Headquarters
- Tadao Kashio, the founder of Casio computer in 1957.
- The Casio 14-A
Representing more than a billion US dollars in sales today, watchmaking accounts for around one third of the revenue of the Casio Computer Co. and has increased by around 150 per cent over the past five years. A major part of this is thanks to the G-Shock.
But over its thirty years of existence, the G-Shock has evolved considerably, moving gradually from a first phase of cheap instrument watches to a second phase that brings added value with the use of additional technology (solar, radio control, innovative functions, smart access). Today, Casio is entering a third phase that aims to move the strategy of Casio Timepieces upmarket, making it more “horological”, with the increasing use of analogue displays and “full metal” pieces.
Voluntarily positioning itself in contrast to the Swiss watchmakers (electronic against mechanical, an evolving stylistic and technological approach against heritage and tradition, industrial processes against the hand of the craftsman, “global fun” against seriousness), Casio is making a decisive play in the quest for new customers by increasing its technological – and design – know-how in the field of multifunction analogue watches. Watches that are powered by a series of independent motors (up to five motors), which allow a different function to be assigned to each hand.
- Hiroshi Nakamura
According to Hiroshi Nakamura, managing director of the Sales & Marketing Department, “by starting with calculators and digital watches and then moving to analogue, Casio has a clear advantage over the Swiss in this field, who will have difficulties to express the new functions on analogue watches in a mechanical way.” Functions that will become all the more widespread with the arrival of “smart watches”. (See box).
This third phase in the development of Casio Timepieces goes hand in hand with a progressive increase in the average price (today around 120 US dollars, the most expensive model being a limited-edition G-Shock in gold, at 6,000 US dollars) and the overall positioning of the brand. Above the G-Shock, the Pro Trek (highly specialised instrument watches), Sheen (ladies’ fashion watches), Edifice (sports chronographs) and Oceanus (trendy instrument divers’ watches, for the moment distributed only in Japan and Singapore) collections show the importance of this “analogue revolution” carried out by Casio in view of its move upmarket. (For more on this subject, see Europa Star 5/2012 Casio’s Analogue Revolution).
Hiroshi Nakamura does not seem the least bit worried about the increasing competition from a whole series of so-called smart watches. “In a way, our Bluetooth watches, the second generation of which is now arriving in the markets (the new G-Shock GB6900B), are more advanced than, for example, the watch that Samsung has just presented, which is more of a wrist instrument than a watch. We look at things from the watchmaking point of view and not as a telephone manufacturer. It is an entirely different approach. The main difference is in how the power is managed.
Our Bluetooth watches have a power reserve of two full years without any need for recharging. They are compatible with Apple and Samsung and allow a whole series of operations to be linked with your smartphone either from watch to phone or from phone to watch: e-mail notification, music control (volume, track selection, pause), but also the configuration of the world time, alarm and schedule. The new model also offers other functions linked to applications, in particular in the field of sports, such as heart-rate monitoring, cadence, distance, speed, all of which can be read directly on the watch’s dial.”
Communication specifications: Communication standard Bluetooth® v4.0.
Signal range: Up to 2m (may differ depending on surrounding conditions)
- World time: 100 cities (35 time zones, daylight saving on/off) and Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).
- Alarm: 5 daily alarms or one-time alarms (with 1 snooze alarm), hourly time signal.
- Stopwatch: 1/100-second; measuring capacity: 999:59’59.99”; elapsed time, split time, 1st and 2nd place times.
- Countdown timer: Setting accuracy: 1 second; 100-hour maximum per set; unit of measure: 1/10-second.
- Light: LED backlight (super illuminator and afterglow); auto light switch; selectable illumination duration: 1.5 or 3.0 seconds.
- Other features: Mobile link; vibe alert; tap function; full auto-calendar, 12/24-hour format; button operation tone on/off; low battery warning; power-saving function (Mobile Link turns off automatically after a fixed amount of time to save power).
- Water resistance: 200 metres.
Casio’s ambition, now clearly known, is to fully capitalise on this watchmaking legitimacy that has been built up step-by-step over almost 40 years (30 years this year for the G-Shock alone). This legitimacy is now fully recognised for what it is: that of an electronic watch brand that constantly innovates and that, with the G-Shock, has created what is undoubtedly one of the only true icons among quartz watches.
We can judge this recognition at Roppongi Hills, for example, where the international luxury brands all have their flagship stores. At Ishida, which sells brands such as Jaeger-LeCoultre, Cartier, Audemars Piguet, Breitling for Bentley, Chopard, A. Lange & Söhne and others of the same level, Casio has for the past five years already had a magnificent display dedicated to G-Shocks and its other models.
Opposite Tokyo station, the world’s biggest railway station, in the Kitte store, which showcases the best of Made in Japan, Casio has a G-Shock Store, covering 50 square metres, which offers watches costing up to 3,000 US dollars. And judging by the small crowd continuously present in the store, the sell-out seems to be going very well. Flagships stores, G-Factory Premium, G-Factory, G-Shock stores… Casio has a lot of them in Asia, but also in the USA, in London (Covent Garden) and beyond. The brand has around 600 of its own name stores in one form or another among its 6,000 points of sale worldwide, which sell 5.5 million G-Shocks per year. The market is spread almost evenly between Japan, the rest of Asia, Europe and the USA.
This success and this move up range are backed by a powerful industrial capacity. After visiting the R&D centre, then the imposing headquarters in Tokyo, we take the shinkansen north to the Yamagata prefecture. Here, in Higashire, a place also known for the quality of its cherries and pears, we find the industrial arm of Casio: Yamagata Casio Co., Ltd. Established in 1979, this “electronic manufacture”, which employs 750 people on a 25,000m2 site, produces watches, digital cameras and electronic retail terminals.
But the majority of production consists of high-end Casio watches. The particular area of expertise of this production centre is ultra-precise component moulding, a fully digitalised operation. This is how Masaki Isosaki, the CEO of the factory, likes to present his company: “World’s best digital engineering” at the service of Casio.
Working in a “cloud environment”, models are created in entirely virtual form and the information flows in real time from design and technical drawings to production, and back. Production is fully automated (but the hand and the eye still have a part to play). Two prestigious Nikkei Monozukuri Awards for excellence of industrial organisation have been awarded to Casio, after Nissan, Toyota and Canon.
All of Casio’s premium lines, i.e. Oceanus, Protrek and the most advanced G-Shock models, in particular the analogue ones (the remaining production being offshored in China and Thailand, see “Facts & Figures”) are all made in Yamagata. Mr. Isosaki repeats that the favoured avenues of research are now those towards “unlimited electronic expressions of the hands”. For these models in particular, Yamagata is vertically integrated, from the moulding of movement components and cases up to assembly and casing up. To see this, we need to visit the “Premium Production Line”.
But first we have to put on a cosmonaut’s uniform, because this is a clean room in a controlled atmosphere. The company’s best employees work on this Premium Production Line, because even though mechanisation is pushed to the extreme here, the human role has its primordial importance, if only to permanently monitor operations, in particular the delicate positioning of multiple hands on these instrument watches.
We have to admit that the visit to this production line is especially impressive. Not so much because of the speed of production, which is quite measured – the production, assembly and casing up of watch and movement takes around 15 minutes, counting the operations only, excluding the transport time along the line, which gives a total of 300 watches per day – but by the singular spectacle that it offers. A multitude of small robots (all developed entirely in-house) arranged in a line go about their tasks mechanically with unrivalled precision. In the course of its production, a watch first passes along the long chains of movement pre-assembly. Each operation is carried out by a small robot with delicate fingers, surrounded by real-time monitoring instruments that check the accuracy of the operation before moving on to the next step.
The “watchmakers” who work here, in their full body suits, look like micro-surgeons. Once the watch has passed through all the stations, the movement is handed over to the Premium Assembly Line proper. Arranged in an “s” shape, this line comprises 14 stations staffed exclusively by “medal-winning artisans” who look after the especially complicated casing up of these multifunction watches. Special attention (five stations are devoted to it) is given to checking the precision of the position, the height and the operation of the hands.
This essential task is carried out manually using extremely sophisticated testing equipment, each operator checking his own gestures on a big monitor above him. This is far removed from the way the Swiss manufactures work, with their culture of mechanics, since here the electronic “genes” of Casio can be seen clearly in the industrial processes that have been developed.
As an example of this two-pronged approach of moving upmarket and towards analogue, let us take a look at one of the latest G-Shock models, the MT-G Premium Aviation. As its name suggests, it is inspired by the aeronautical world and is both robust, durable, functional and high-quality. It is a genuine instrument and at the same time an elegant analogue watch, destined for “premium” retailers.
For the first time, the special construction of its complex case, which consists of 123 components, mixes stainless steel, resin and gel to form composite layers. The bracelet, in stainless steel, also has its interior surface covered with fine elements of resin. The result is exceptional comfort and lightness on the wrist. The bold three-dimensional hour markers are cut into a metallic ring that is inserted on the dial, while the scales, numerals and indications are produced using “vapour print 3D”. All this is protected by a sapphire crystal. Special care is given to polishing all the angular components using a process called “zallaz” or “zaratsu”, a manual polishing technique using tin that is traditionally applied to the blades of sabres, giving the edges a luminous “sharpness” with perfectly drawn lines.
The MT-G Premium Aviation also has a new shock-absorption system that uses a new type of gel. A small demonstration of the qualities of this gel surprised us when we were invited to drop an egg on it from a height of 1.50 metres. The egg remained fully intact after landing on a very fine layer of this material with astonishing properties of absorption. But in addition the entire construction of the case was redesigned in order to offer greater resistance. In the case of a vertical shock, the bezel lowers and the shock is absorbed by the gel, while in the case of a lateral shock, two small tubes in urethane absorb the shockwaves. The stiffness of the case is ensured by a stainless-steel base that is cut from a solid block, with strong central lugs to which the case and bracelet are fixed.
This is a watch that embodies all of Casio’s special know-how in terms of robustness and functions, opens up new avenues in analogue display and is a perfect example of Casio’s horological legitimacy.
This first generation of MT-G timepieces is available in three exclusive models. The MTGS1000D-1A in polished stainless steel & resin will retail for $900. The MTGS1000BD-1A is finished in refined black ion-plated stainless steel & resin for $1000. And in celebration of G-Shock’s 30th anniversary, the black ion-plated MTGS1030BD-1A is a limited edition featuring gold highlights and a unique, red-panelled bracelet band retailing for $1100, which honours the brand’s heritage colours of black and red.
Construction: Triple G Resist (shock-resistant, resistant to centrifugal gravitational force and vibration-resistant).
Water resistance: 200 metres.
Radio frequency: 77.5 kHz (DCF77: Germany); 60 kHz (MSF: UK); 60 kHz (WWVB: USA); 40 kHz (JJY: Fukushima, Japan) / 60 kHz (JJY: Kyushu, Japan); 68.5 kHz (BPC: China).
Radio wave reception: Automatic reception up to six times a day (except for use in China: up to five times a day); manual reception.
World time: 29 cities (29 time zones; daylight saving on/off; daylight saving time (summer time) auto switching/ standard time and Coordinated Universal Time.
Stopwatch: 1/20-second stopwatch; measuring capacity: 120 minutes; auto-start.
Countdown timer: Measuring unit: 1 second; countdown range: 120 minutes; countdown start time setting range: 1 to 120 minutes.
Other functions: Automatic hands correction; daily alarm; full auto-calendar; battery recharge warning.
Power source: Tough solar power system (solar-charging system).
Continuous operation: About 27 months with the power-saving function ON after full charge (Power-saving after a certain period in a dark location).
Case dimensions: 58.6 × 53.5 × 15.5 mm.
Total weight: Approx. 188 g.
- CASIO COMPUTER CO., LTD
President & CEO: Kazuo Kashio
Established: June 1, 1957
Paid-in capital: 48,592m yen (488 million US$)
Net sales: 297,763m yen (2,991 million US$)
No. of employees: 11,276 (as of March 31, 2013)
- SALES BY PRODUCT CATEGORY (FY 2013):
Consumer: Timepieces, digital cameras, electronic dictionaries, calculators, digital pianos: 76.5% / 227.9 billion yen (2.29 billion US$)
System equipment: Cash registers, printers, data projectors, handy terminals, label printers, photo and postcards printers, memo printers:14.0% / 41.8 billion yen (420 million US$)
Other: 9.5% / 28.1 billion yen (282 million US$)
Overseas sales: 55.5% (FY 2013)
Subsidiaries: Europe (8), Asia (6), Americas (5).
Main production facilities: Yamagata Casio Co. Ltd, Japan (timepieces); Casio Electronic Technology (Zhongshan) Co., Ltd, China (timepieces, electronic dictionaries, electronic musical instruments); Casio Electronics (Shenzhen) Co., Ltd, China (timepieces); Casio (Thailand) Co., Ltd (timepieces).
Source: Europa Star October - November 2013 Magazine Issue