A few days ago I was talking to a public relations professional on our way to a set of interviews at a mobile phone factory. My job was to ask awkward questions, and his was to make sure that no lasting damage was forthcoming to his client.
My companion represents several watch companies as well and we soon began discussing the major watch fairs that take place in Switzerland each year: Baselworld and SIHH (Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie).
From the outside it looks like a dream gig. But, in fact, the events are, from the perspective of most serious attendees, violations of every tenet of the Geneva Convention. Catch one of the brand managers in private, and they’ll readily admit to a secret desire to strangle at least one watch journalist a day with their bare hands. The journalists, meanwhile, having dragged around 2.5 tonnes of press kits the whole day, would gladly return the favour.
Resilient: The G-Shock watch.
We were discussing all this heartburn when my co-traveller admitted to being a committed collector of Casio G-Shock watches.
This might seem a little bit like admitting to preferring Twenty20 (T20) to Test cricket. But, in fact, the gentleman has merely revealed a most admirable penchant.
The G-Shock is an astonishingly good watch.
In 1981, the story goes, Casio’s chief research and development (R&D) engineer Kikuo Ibe dropped his watch and broke it. It was a watch he had been gifted by his father and Ibe was a very upset man. And he decided to make amends like a man possessed. Ibe spent the next two years creating a watch that you could drop without breaking. In 2008, Ibe travelled around the world to celebrate 25 years of the G-Shock. In Malaysia he spoke to The Star newspaper. He told them how he tested prototypes by dropping them from windows in his office building. Finally he made one that stayed in one piece. But then came another problem. And one that watchmakers have spent, literally, centuries trying to solve.
One of the greatest threats to a mechanical watch’s accuracy is the force of gravity. Watches are powered by springs, and springs can behave erratically depending on how they are oriented to a gravitational field. Traditional watchmakers solved this problem by inventing movements, such as tourbillons, that reduced the impact of gravity. Some brands have taken this one step further. Zenith’s Christophe Colomb limited-edition piece suspends the tourbillon in a three-dimensional bubble. The entire mechanism is allowed to move freely within this bubble. Thereby always keeping the mechanism oriented correctly, irrespective of how you move your wrist.
Ibe’s enemy was the same, but gravity affected him differently. His case managed to withstand the fall from his office window, but the jolt rattled the electronics inside his watch. Ibe told The Star that the solution came to him when he saw a child play with a ball. He proceeded to design a new system that suspended the digital module inside the case, isolating it from exterior shocks. The G-Shock, now protected from gravitational shock, was born. It is remarkable how that simple concept has now produced an entire range of products complete with limited editions, international fan following and very serious collectors. Go to www.g-peopleland.com to see one Dutch collector’s massive accumulation of models.
Around two years ago, I bought my own G-Shock watch from a store in New Delhi (a DW-6600, the same piece that appears on the G-Shock Wikipedia page). Since then it has become my primary timekeeping device, alarm and timer. God knows I’ve subject it to the most brutal mishandling: drops, hot coffee showers, brutal rubbings against stone walls... and yet it barely has a scratch.
Kikuo Ibe will be proud to hear how the salesman in Delhi impressed me. He took a piece and threw it hard against the shopping mall floor. And then he picked it up. It worked perfectly. “Only G-Shock sir... Only G-Shock.”
Since then I’ve done that many times myself. I find it tremendously therapeutic.
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