I met Kikuo Ibe for the first time last November during the G-Shock 35th-anniversary party held at Madison Square Garden. Although the larger-than-life spectacle featured contemporary cultural icons like Virgil Abloh and Ronnie Fieg, everything was centered around Mr. Ibe, the eccentric engineer who created the practically indestructible timepiece.
My next in-depth encounter with the world that Mr. Ibe created was while I was working on a feature story on the history of G-Shock design for WatchTime’s annual Design Issue. During my research process, I talked with over a dozen watch collectors that felt their horological journey had been started by G-Shock. It’s a known truth that being a serious watch collector involves a certain kind of madness, and I found that G-Shock collectors were even more passionate and emotional about their watches than many of the Swiss-based collectors I’ve met during my time as a watch journalist. G-Shock fandom is non-discriminatory, it consumes both neophyte collectors as well as deep-pocketed hobbyists that have literal safes filled with watches. Once I finished the article, my interest was not yet sated, and I yearned for my next comprehensive G-Shock experience.
My second one-on-one encounter with Mr. Ibe took placed a few weeks ago when I met him at the G-Shock showroom in New York for a follow-up interview. Read on as Mr. Ibe and I discuss the recent success of the Full Metal line, the importance of a balance between luxury and accessibility, and the G-Shock fandom as a whole.
Logan R. Baker: To start off, I’d like to talk about the new Full Metal line that was introduced at Baselworld this year. It’s been very successful so far. Are there plans to continue developing it moving into next year?
Kikuo Ibe: We just launched a [new Full Metal] watch before the holidays that we expect will perform well. Talking about the future of the product, we expand this metal G-Shock lineup for a couple of years. Then, during that process, what we’re thinking is the development of a new material. Unfortunately, so far, we can’t say [what it is]. The material is one of our ideas to improve. We’ll launch a new concept for G-Shock at Basel next year.
LRB: Were there any surprises that came with the release of the Full Metal G-Shock?
KI: The one thing that we didn’t expect when we launched the Full Metal G-Shock in the United States was that the actual sales were much higher than we expected. With this new product, the Full Metal G-Shock, we tried to expand our channels at more luxury jewelers with this high-end G-Shock. We are very happy.
LRB: As you said, we’ve seen G-Shock go more upmarket over the past few years. Is there a way to effectively balance the upmarket growth with the accessible pricing that G-Shock has been known for throughout its lifetime?
KI: That is very important. We carefully segment the lineup. The starting point is probably $99; the most expensive one, that we call MR-G, is $6,000 or $7,000. Then we clearly segment the two lineups by channel. We are selling the G-Shock to the world market, for example, in middle-tier stores like Kohls or J.C. Penney as well as the department stores like Macy’s. The highest one is for the luxury jewelers that are mainly selling the Swiss brands. By segmenting the product, we can survive. We can sell the G-Shock from bottom to top. That is our strategy. Only our brand can sell bottom to high end. Every Swiss brand only has the high-priced range, but we have from $99 to $7,400. That is something only G-Shock can do.
LRB: I’d like to talk about the S-Series for a moment. When it was announced, it was intended to be a new launch for the ladies market. How has that developed over the past few years? Is it successful?
KI: The S-Series just started in 2014 in the United States. Every year, we increase the sales. It is still much smaller than G-Shock, but it’s surely expanding. Also, [we are able] to cultivate the female market of the brand, not only in the U.S., but also in other areas like Asia and Europe. We are cultivating and continuing to expand the female market yearly. It used to be that we have Baby-G. The Baby-G’s name doesn’t fit for American people. The Baby-G communicates to teenagers, so we developed the S-Series for mature ladies.
LRB: In a recent issue of WatchTime, I wrote a long-form article about the history of G-Shock design. During my research, I did an interview with a Queens-based collector who has your signature tattooed on his wrist. What inspires that kind of passion for the brand? What do you think it is about your invention that people respond to?
KI: First of all, we appreciate the collector. [Compared to a] a Swiss brand, G-Shock is one part of the body. My body. A Swiss brand is not a part of the body because it’s an expensive watch. When a customer is wearing a Swiss watch, he needs to care about it. With G-Shock, you don’t need to care for anything. That’s why G-Shock is one part of my body. With a Swiss watch, because of the [materials] or price range, people must handle with care. But G-Shock, no. You can treat it as you like.
LRB: My last question has to do with the future viability of the global Swiss fairs like Baselworld. We’re seeing them decline in relevance. What does exhibiting at Baselworld mean for G-Shock? Will you continue to exhibit there in the future?
KI: The reason we participate at Baselworld is to show the difference between a Swiss brand and G-Shock/Casio. We will participate next year. Baselworld is very important for us to show the difference. We want to continue to participate as long as we can. Our brand is about evolution and innovation. That is the point we want to show the industry at Basel, at least, in 2019. Past 2019, we will need to discuss future plans.