A Morning With Kikuo Ibe
When first introduced to the diminutive and unassuming Kikuo Ibe, one might forgiven for not believing that he is the father of the most famously rugged line of watches in the world -- namely, G-Shock. Yet, behind his trademark spectacles, lurks a tenacious personality who's motto, "Never Give Up" has informed over three decades of watches from Casio's most famous brand.
Two MR-G prototypes alongside the latest model
Ibe-san was in New York to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the MR-G line of high-end G-Shocks, which were first introduced to the world back in 1996. Believe it or not, but an all-metal G-Shock presented his team with the same near-insurmountable problems that the first resin-cased one did, and like that first G-Shock, there were times when he questioned whether or not they would be successful in emulating the legendary shock resistance that the brand was famous for. In fact, at one point his team was so despondent over their seeming lack of progress, that in an effort to motivate them, Ibe promised that they'd all be interviewed in a major Japanese magazine upon the successful launch of the new collection. (It goes without saying that he had no way to guarantee that any such interview would take place.)
20 Years In The Making
Well, it seems that that white lie was enough to get the ball rolling again, and as history has shown, the MR-G was a runaway success, with stores selling out all over Japan on its release day. (And, yes, as it so happens, the team got their magazine interview!) Of course, that was two decades ago, and the line has evolved considerably since then, with the latest collection moving assertively into luxury watch territory with hardened, Sallaz-polished titanium cases, sapphire crystals and GPS-receivers to ensure to-the-nanosecond accuracy anywhere in the world.
The MRG-G1000HT "Hammer Tone"
What hasn't changed, however, is the near-indestructibility that has always been the G-Shock hallmark. The current crop of MR-Gs, which start at $2600 boast G-Shock's analog "Tough Movement", which has to survive three different types of shock and vibration in order to carry the name, while the hardened titanium cases shrug off shocks and scrapes with ease. Of course, if you require all this, plus that certain bit of je ne sais quois that comes from a human touch, G-Shock offered the limited edition MR-G "Hammer Tone", which features the Japanese metalwork known as "tsuiki". This unique finish is applied by hand by a third generation master metalworker, Bihou Asano, and no two watches from the series are alike. (In an interesting twist, working with titanium presented a problem for Asano-san, requiring the creation of different hammers to mitigate the increased shock he was encountering -- a G-Shock hammer, if you will!)
Given his success -- G-Shock even created a one-off solid gold GW-5000 in his honor -- one would be forgiven for thinking that he has a stable of watches, including the aforementioned $6K Hammer Tone, but in fact, he remains loyal to his original design, the "Square", four of which he rotates through depending on the seasons.
Never Give Up, indeed.
PS - Yes, I had him sign my son's first G-Shock...