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How Does G-Shock Compete in a World of Fitbits and Apple Watches?

Technology is looking to upend the watch industry. G-Shock creator Kikuo Ibe knows he can't be left behind.
A visitor compares a Samsung Electronics Co. Galaxy Gear watch with his G-Shock watch at the company's flagship store in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013.
Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg
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G-Shock creator Kikuo Ibe sits in a makeshift showroom, surrounded by dozens of G-Shock watches that include a prototype model from 1982. It still works, his translator proudly proclaims. Durability is what people love about these watches, after all. Soft-spoken but with a lively sense of humor, the bespectacled Japanese engineer then goes through the history of G-Shock in English, telling the story of his life's work. "I have a harder time now, rather than enjoying it," Ibe says afterward, back to using the translator. "It's different from the old days."

He's been doing this for a long time. As the story goes, in 1981, Ibe dropped a watch given him by his father, shattering the precious possession. He started to work at building a heavy duty timepiece for Casio that could survive a simple fall and eventually came up with the hollow, shock-absorbing case structure that became the heart of G-Shock watches. During his presentation, Ibe showcases one experimental prototype from the mid-1990s that was essentially a stripped-down metal frame. It looks as if it had been though a war, battle-worn from testing years ago.