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Kikuo Ibe

Kikuo Ibe

The Godfather of G-Shock
Nov 11, 2017 5:50 AM

As a young man, Kikuo Ibe admits to being "more playful than serious"; never in his wildest dreams did the soft-spoken Japanese engineer think that one day, he would be the inventor of what is arguably the world's most popular and best-selling digital watch - the Casio G-Shock.

In September, the Japanese electronics giant reported it shipped the 100 millionth unit of the virtually indestructible timepiece which Ibe invented in 1983, an announcement that coincided with the latter's visit to Singapore to unveil the brand's top-of-the-line MR-G series.

That premium collection is instantly distinguishable by the watches' metallic casings and exquisite craftsmanship - as well as its eye-watering four-figure price tags.

It might look nothing like the more popular range of sub-hundred-dollar resin G-Shocks but both collections share one common characteristic: its toughness.

The concept for the brand came about when Ibe accidentally damaged the first watch his father gave him. "That was when I thought of making one that is so durable it wouldn't even break when dropped," he recalls.

It took two years of research and development before Ibe finally had an eureka moment: watching a child play with a ball gave him the idea to encase a watch within a rubber structure that is capable of absorbing shocks.

The rest, as they say, is history and G-Shock has stood the test of time because of the unique way it combines durability with the latest technology. Some of the more advanced pieces in the various collections include everything from Bluetooth capability to barometers and altimeters, as well as Global Positioning System.

You have worked with Casio for over four decades now. What would you consider as some of your career highlights?

There are two things that immediately come to mind: first, it's the invention of the G-Shock which I'm very proud of. The second would be the watch's evolution to metal, which is the MR-G.

When the MR-G collection was first introduced 20 years ago, it was only available in Japan. It's only in recent years that you can now buy it around the world. What made the company change its mind?

We found out that a lot of premium dealers and collectors outside of Japan have found out and already know a lot about the MR-G even though we did not release it globally then. We kept getting numerous requests from them to also put it for sale around the world so we are now responding to that demand.

G-Shocks are practically indestructible - isn't that bad for business when theoretically you only need to buy one for life?

Actually for me, the most important thing about any product is that they should be tough and long-lasting.

You have been in the business of 'selling time' (watches) for decades now. Given more time, how would you spend it?

Outside of work, I'm very interested in agriculture, and my hobby is planting and growing my own organic vegetables. I'm working on having my own farm.

G-Shock has spawned a culture of collecting but word is, you only own one yourself.

I now have three: in black, red and white. They are all DW-5000s (the first G-Shock ever invented).

Can you tell us why only that model?

While researching and developing the G-Shock, my body kept getting smaller and skinnier so this watch is the right size for me - the newer ones are getting bigger. Do you know before I invented the G-Shock, I was actually 2m tall! [laughs heartily]

Tell us about the significance of the three colours you've chosen.

[Digs into his backpack and produces said watches] I change colours by the season - in summer, I would wear the white one; in spring and autumn, I'll put on the black; and in winter, I'll change into the red. The reason I carry all three with me when I travel is not only because I get asked this question a lot but also because the seasons around the world are different - it's summer here in Singapore but autumn in Japan.

You are nicknamed The Godfather of G-Shock for your contribution to the world of digital watches. How do you feel about inventing something which has become an icon over the decades?

I don't give that too much thought but I am heartened by the fact that people around the world recognise G-Shock watches are unique. I'm grateful for their support and also the media which cover our products.

Your watches have evolved over the decade from being simple, timepieces to state-of-the-art ones like the MR-G. What other hopes do you have for the brand?

My final dream would be to invent a watch which would also function in outer space. I've not started developing that yet but the thought motivates me to work towards that goal. [Breaks into a cheeky smile] I want to be up there some day with an alien standing next to me, and both of us are wearing our G-Shocks on our wrists!

As the name behind one of the world's most iconic watches, what does time mean to you?

If you use it wisely, you can create quality; but if you waste it, you won't create anything worthy. I try to use my time wisely but I'm also always looking for better ways to spend my time.