Emotional resonance is now an integral part of G-Shock’s design DNA, says its chief designer Ryusuke Moriai on the 35th anniversary of the iconic watch

SINGAPORE (Mar 11): The scene at SCAPE is banging. A 3x3 basketball tournament is being played to a thumping soundtrack. In one corner, aerosol cans are being deployed at a graffiti painting workshop by popular street artist ClogTwo. Next door, old skateboards are being converted into stools at an upcycle workshop by the Kult collective. Elsewhere, a group of adolescents is dealing with teen angst via a unique brand of “smash therapy” at The Fragment Room.

Welcome to G-FEST, a street culture festival to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Casio’s G-Shock watch late last year.

Caption for main image: Moriai (left) officially launches the G-FEST street culture festival by smashing an ice block holding a few G-Shocks — to demonstrate the watches’ shock resistance

Thirty-five years of “absolute toughness”, as the brand’s slo­gan proclaims, during which the G-Shock transformed from utilitarian instrument into cultural phenomenon feted by a cult following that is strategically cultivated by events such as this. And it is not through a singular identity but by diversity of design through special-edition collections in collaboration with prolific artists, designers, musicians, brands and other subculture heroes that have kept the brand interesting and coveted by the youth long after its first adopters began creeping into middle age.

The highly anticipated limited-edition “G-Shock x Gorillaz” collaboration with the British virtual band, for example, dropped on the day of the festival, with only a lucky few getting the chance to secure a piece in person at G-FEST — if they won the ballot.

The gallery set up on the G-FEST grounds served up a visual feast for diehard fans with its showcase of G-Shock’s evolutionary arc of imaginative design expressions

Says Ryusuke Moriai, G-Shock’s chief designer, who was flown in from Japan for the festival: “The G-Shock has evolved from being mostly about function — shock resistance – in the beginning, to combining youth and street culture elements. Now, emotional value plays a bigger role in the design.”

Indeed, the gallery set up on the G-FEST grounds served up a visual feast for diehard fans with its showcase of G-Shock’s evolutionary arc of imaginative design expressions from the very first watch created by Kikuo Ibe (a veritable legend worshipped by the fandom) in 1983 to collaborations with Japanese streetwear label A Bathing Ape, Australian sneaker magazine Sneaker Freaker, Japanese menswear brand N.Hoolywood and other limited-edition collectibles. On display too was the tie-up with Singapore rapper ­ShiGGa Shay, who was part of the concert line-up, along with Singapore Idol alum Tabitha Nauser, DJ KiDG and post-hardcore band Caracal.

Graffiti painting workshop by popular street artist ClogTwo

Moriai is the man responsible for keeping the G-Shock fresh and relevant for 24 of its 35 years in existence, becoming something of a design hero himself in this time. The bespectacled Japanese designer received a lot of love from the crowd when he took to the stage with a hammer to officially launch the festival by smashing an ice block holding a few G-Shocks — to demonstrate the watches’ shock-resistance.

Just a hunch, but the hero worship might have something to do with the fact that the first watch Moriai ever designed for Casio when he joined the company in 1985 (10 years before moving to design exclusively for G-Shock) was the F-91W, a fuss-free multifunction digital watch ubiquitous on the wrists of many army boys during their National Service and still sold today. 

The difficulty in continuing to design for G-Shock after all this time, says Moriai, is that present-day product designs have to go beyond engaging customers on the surface level. “There has to be an emotional element; it has to have emotional value or lift people’s mood,” he says.

An example is the striking limited edition collaboration with the Transformers franchise announced just a few days prior to G-FEST. With its red case and blue band in the iconic colours of beloved robot superhero Optimus Prime, the special design based on G-Shock’s classic men’s DW6900 watch appeals to fans who grew up with the movie and comic-book franchise.

The Master Optimus Prime action figure transforms from the standing Resonant Mode, with the watch housed in the robot’s chest, into a watch pedestal in Pedestal Prime Mode — very cool, if you geek out on this sort of thing

The Transformers watch makes one wonder what more a G-Shock can possibly do. For Moriai, it would be inventing a G-Shock that can be worn 24/7, like a second skin. “A miniature computer equipped with high-tech and communication functions like a connected watch that’s part of your life and that you wear every day like jeans — but without requiring battery charging,” he says.

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