SINGAPORE (Aug 13): I remember receiving my very first G-Shock watch. It was the mid-1990s and Casio had just given birth to the Baby-G. It was fun with its translucent jelly strap in bright, bubblegum colours and every girl in school wanted one.

That was 20-odd years ago. The Japanese company has since spawned more than 2,000 G-Shock incarnations, solidifying G-Shock’s legacy as totally shock-resistant, unbreakable and virtually indestructible — the ultimate in toughness worn even by professional athletes and military special forces. Today, G-Shock is still as relevant — not only as an icon of a generation but a timeless favourite for those in sport, as well as an ever-evolving novelty for trend-conscious millennials.

“Millennials like fashion and so we are always trying to discover the fashion trends and how G-Shock can fit into those new trends,” says Shingo Ishizaka, chief engineer of Casio, through a Japanese interpreter.

We are chatting over a cup of afternoon tea in Antoinette at Mandarin Gallery, together with Jeremy Lim, chief operating officer of Cortina Watch. Ishizaka is in town for the launch of the new MR-G Tetsu-Tsuba, which he designed, later in the evening at the Cortina boutique downstairs.

The 60-year-old is not what I expect of a G-Shock designer. He does not fit the mould of the creative archetype. Instead, Ishizaka channels businessman vibes with his slender frame in a suit. He has a very calm and gentle air about him, though, and I find myself intrigued at the juxtaposition between the zen-like quality of Ishizaka’s mild-mannered nature and the rugged robustness of G-Shock.

Ishizaka began his career at Casio some 30 years ago as a watch designer and later moved to the product-planning division. As chief engineer today, he is in charge of developing the MR-G series, the most premium line within the G-Shock family, which is manufactured in their Yamagata factory in Japan.

This premium range was introduced in 1996 to cater to the maturing clientele who have grown up with the iconic G-Shock watch since the 1980s. The men’s luxury line distinguishes itself from the mass G-Shock models with a full-metal aesthetic with cases and bracelets fashioned in steel or titanium, and use of traditional Japanese artisanal techniques paired with leading-edge timekeeping technologies. They also come with a much heftier price tag. While a standard G-Shock starts from about $100, the price of the MR-G models easily run into the thousands.

The new MR-G Tetsu-Tsuba, for instance, retails at $10,888, with a limited-edition run of 350 pieces, representing one of the most expensive G-Shocks ever made. As one of the first markets in the world to carry the MR-G Tetsu-Tsuba, Singapore will get just 12 units for sale — 10 of which have been packaged as commemorative sets paired with premium Japanese sake Mujaku to celebrate the 35th anniversary of G-Shock this year, priced at $11,888 and available exclusively at Cortina’s boutique at Mandarin Gallery.

The MTG-B1000 features a new shockresistant construction, which, like all the MTG series timepieces, leverages the properties of both metal and resin

Premium pairing
Casio’s G-Shock and Cortina Watch may seem unlikely bedfellows, but Lim is keen to remove the “stigma of traditional Swiss watches versus Japanese watches”.

“Today, you have Apple collaborating with Hermès (for the special edition Apple Watch Hermès). You have high fashion houses working with high street fashion designers. So, what’s to say a highly technical Swiss watch and a highly digitised Japanese product can’t co-exist? People are today buying precision and prestige, so there’s no reason they cannot sit side by side,” he assures.

According to Lim, it was Casio that first approached him four years ago to explore the possibility of a collaboration, and the resultant alliance was a “hard decision for both parties”.

“A lot of our clients buy Swiss watches at the highest value because of the craftsmanship and the know-how — whether it’s a manual mechanical movement, or artisanal or European crafts — that goes into the watch. When we talk about movement, people may criticise quartz watches, but quartz watches remain a very big part of the watch industry. If you talk about smartwatches today, they are all quartz-driven, or what’s better known as battery-operated,” he explains

“What MR-G brings to our clients are also the crafts that are being put aesthetically into the watch using new materials, traditional Japanese skills and craftsmanship.”

Four years on, the partnership has proven successful, with Cortina holding its exclusive position as the only retailer in Singapore to stock G-Shock’s two premium collections, MR-G and MT-G, while Casio’s own G-Factory boutiques do not carry these luxury lines. Besides Singapore, Cortina also holds the exclusive distributorship for MR-G in Malaysia, with one point of sale in Kuala Lumpur carrying MR-G models.

And just like many of G-Shock’s previous MR-G limited editions, Lim expects most of the 12 MR-G Tetsu-Tsuba units to be pre-sold, with several buyers already on the sidelines. “Demand always exceeds the supply,” he reveals.

The new MR-G TetsuTsuba retails at $10,888, with a limited-edition run of 350 pieces, representing one of the most expensive G-Shocks ever made .

High tech, high artistry
The MR-G Tetsu-Tsuba is inspired by the tetsu-tsuba (iron sword guard) on traditionally crafted Japanese swords, which protects the wielder’s hands and helps provide the sword with a weighted balance while also serving as a decorative element.

To recreate the textured effect of the tetsutsuba, Casio called upon the high artistry of Asano Biho, a third-generation master artisan of the tsuiki metalworking technique, whose accomplishments include restoring important cultural properties of Japan. Biho supervised and helped perform the manual application of the fine hammering technique on the watch’s titanium bezel and bracelet centre links, rendering a rugged elegance to the MR-G Tetsu-Tsuba’s distinctive and bold aesthetic.

The biggest challenge in creating this watch, says Ishizaka, was the limitation on the quantity of watches they could produce because of the handcrafted nature of the craft. It was a long process of almost two years from finding the artisan with the right skill and discussing the parameters of what could or could not be done when applying this special technique to a watch, to the moment the MR-G Tetsu-Tsuba was unveiled as one of the novelties at Casio’s booth at Baselworld 2018 in March.

The other challenge was crafting the MR-G Tetsu-Tsuba in titanium. As this material is easily scratched, a special arc ion plating was used to apply a hardened coating to the components, resulting in an abrasion-resistant surface, as well as a richly coloured exterior that brings to mind the murasaki-gane (deep violet metal) and suaka copper-coloured alloys used in various traditional Japanese crafts, which add to both the value and rarity of the MR-G Tetsu-Tsuba.

Functionally, think of the MR-G Tetsu-Tsuba as a G-Shock on steroids. The Bluetooth- and GPS-enabled, solar-powered watch features the Connected Engine 3-Way module, which pairs with a smartphone to automatically update the watch’s internal data, including the time, daylight savings time and changes in time zones of 39 cities. And, it is shock-resistant, of course.

Ishizaka clearly takes a lot of pride in showcasing traditional Japanese craftsmanship on the world stage, and enjoys marrying this artistry with the most advanced technologies using the MR-G as a medium.

When it comes to the age-old question of form versus function in any designer’s creative process, Ishizaka says the aesthetic does not necessarily take precedence over technological considerations. “It overlaps or occurs simultaneously,” he says. “It’s like, I want to make this kind of watch, and so what kind of technology can I use? Or, I have these technologies, so what kind of watches can I make?” He draws creative inspiration from “everything”, from art to music genres such as jazz and rock, and in the case of the MR-G Tetsu-Tsuba, traditional Japanese craftsmanship.

How else could we see G-Shock evolving in time to come?

“Now, the retro or vintage style is becoming a trend, so he’s always thinking of how to match those trends,” offers the interpreter. Another upcoming trend Ishizaka observes is the mash-up between “urban and outdoor”, which, he feels, is perfectly aligned with G-Shock’s brand DNA and everything it stands for.

Casio has sold 100 million G-Shock units since it first rolled off the production line in 1983. And Ishizaka has been there through it all. On the 35th anniversary of the icon watch of a generation, he sums up the monster success of G-Shock’s longevity, resilience and relevance: “The brand that cannot keep evolving cannot make the tradition”.

Jamie Nonis is a lifestyle journalist with an appreciation for all things beautiful

This article appeared in Issue 843 (Aug 13) of The Edge Singapore.

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