Shock & Awe

Here’s the story: A leading manufacturer releases a new stainless-steel variant of a basic tool watch that has existed for decades. Demand vastly outstrips supply, leading to the immediate creation of a secondary market in which examples trade hands at triple the original MSRP. The manufacturer then releases a new variant in a rare metal that sells for even more. You’ve heard this story before, usually with Rolex as the protagonist—but in this case, the watchmaker in question is Casio, and the watch in question is… a G-Shock? 

The original idea was simple enough, though it was as inherently Japanese in concept and expression as a kendo match: “Triple 10.” Create a digital watch that could endure a ten-meter drop and ten bars of water pressure—while also offering a ten-year battery life. Casio’s Kikuo Ibe developed nearly 200 prototypes that didn’t meet the requirements. The one that did had a unique construction in which the quartz module floated in a urethane cradle. It went into production in 1983 as the square-bodied screwback DW-5000C, labeled “G-Shock”. 

In the 35 years since, Casio has greatly expanded the G-Shock line into hundreds of models. The diversity of shapes, sizes, and display types defies any but the most patient accounting. G-Shocks are made in Japan, China, and Thailand. They are priced between $30 and $70,000. The brand’s exclusive boutiques can be found in Singapore (a short walk from the Marina Bay Hotel) and Soho (don’t miss the mini-museum on the second floor), while the more upscale models are now sharing space with the heavy-hitter Swiss brands both online and in Beverly Hills jewelers. 

ABOVE: The 20th Anniversary limited-edition model of the Casio G-Shock MT-G, the sold-out MTG-B1000RB inspired by a lunar rainbow, a rainbow formed by the light of the moon. Collage Illustrations by Adam Brierley.

A fervent subculture of G-Shock collectors has appeared in recent years, and although there are fans of every variant from the “Baby-G” ladies’ models to the oversized analog-digital “MT-G” flagship efforts, it is the square-bodied descendants of the original DW-5000C that evoke the greatest passions. To be blunt, the “squares” are Casio’s Submariner, or perhaps its GMT-Master. You can join the club for 30 or 40 dollars with a plain plastic-bodied DW-5600, which meets the “Triple 10” requirements—but very few enthusiasts stop there.

In the past few years, square-mania hit an all-time peak with the release of the limited-edition GMWB5000TFG-9. This stainless-steel reimagination of the DW-5000 was ion-plated in gold and offered a laundry list of features: Bluetooth pairing, solar power, instant time synchronization from global radio signals. Retail was $600. It sold out immediately and now trades online between $1500 and $2500 depending on condition. Buoyed by this reception, Casio released a broad range of stainless-steel models, some of which also sold out immediately. An attempt to calm the waters by releasing a more modestly priced variant, the GM5600, only sent those same buyers scurrying back to their authorized dealers with cash in hand. At the same time, the firm went full-throttle with a solid-gold G-D5000-9JR. Thirty-five were made; price was 70,000 dollars. Two were sold to American customers. 

ABOVE: Marking the 35th anniversary and inspired by the first iconic G-Shock model, Casio released the G-Shock GMB5000FTG-9, the Full Metal 5000, an upgraded all-metal timepiece. Collage Illustrations by Adam Brierley.

Even today, Kikuo Ibe claims the “squares” as his favorite watch: “It’s like my son, the first model.” And while he admires the Swiss manufactures, he remains steadfast in his own beliefs: “G-Shock is kind of…to forge your own path. You should be trying to do the things that only you can do.” Which perhaps explains Casio’s creation of a very different G-Shock that is currently fetching well over retail in the secondary market: the analog-faced GA2100-1A1. Dubbed “Casioak” by collectors for its Genta-esque octagonal case, it features new “Carbon Core” construction that takes water resistance to 200 meters while decreasing weight and thickness to negligible levels. The price: 99 bucks. Well-heeled watch collectors who are dipping their toes in the G-Shock waters have any number of desirable choices available, from the attention-getting rainbow-ion-hued MTG-B1000RB-2A to the newly-released titanium-and-sapphire-glass GMW-B5000TB, which retails for a robust $1,550. The connoisseur’s choice, however, is arguably the GW-5000-1JF  square. It offers all the modern features in a traditional resin square case with a DLC-coated screwback, and it’s made in Japan. Unfortunately, it’s also mostly sold in Japan, a difficulty that is easily remedied by a few online sources. Think of it as a brand-new manual-wind Speedmaster; the old wine in a new bottle. Which is a rare thing for a brand, and a concept, that generally shies away from focusing on the past too much. As Kikuo Ibe says, “I want to tell the customers… that we will never stop evolving.