An ode to the G-Shock, the (un)official watch of the Global War on Terror
More than 40 years of unbreakable timekeeping.
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There’s one watch in recent memory that has solidified itself as the military watch, and that’s the venerable Casio G-Shock. Sure, admin types might have their Apple watches, and officers and wannabe cool guys flex their Garmin Fenix 6 Sapphires, but for many U.S. service members, the $50 standard is the brutishly-styled resin watch. This is for a good reason, because when electronics manufacturer Casio took on the challenge of taking early 1980s digital watch technology and making it rugged enough to withstand nearly everything that a human could possibly throw at it, resulting in the Gravitational Shock, or G-Shock.
Today, Casio G-Shocks are inexpensive, durable, and reliable tools that are oftentimes a service member’s first, or even only watch that lasts them an entire enlistment and survives multiple deployments. Name-dropped in ‘Black Hawk Down’ by the Delta Force operators, the G-shock has been spotted everywhere from the wrists of boots at the Parris Island PX to onstage with rappers like Eminem to the International Space Station. Best of all, unlike many products today, the G-Shock has not gone up at all in cost for the base model, which originally retailed for roughly $50 in the 1980s, which would be $133 in today’s money.
The G-Shock is the nearly unbreakable watch for the working man or woman. Here’s how it became one of the most beloved accessories of the Global War on Terror.
The creator of the G-Shock, Kikuo Ibe, was inspired by both the untimely destruction of an heirloom watch by dropping it and watching children on a playground bouncing a rubber ball. Thinking that if he could insulate a watch from impacts and damage, he could make the ultimate durable watch. Project Team Tough was born from this inspiration, and an arduous, 200-prototype development process began.
The G-Shock’s key innovative feature was the suspension of the actual timekeeping device inside an outer protective layer of resin, rubber, and other materials. These materials worked together to isolate it from impacts, guarding the screen against scratches and cracks, and giving the watch a water resistance that would rival Rolex. The watch had to satisfy a requirement that was described as “three 10s”: survive a 10-meter drop, have 10 atmospheres of pressure resistance, and last 10 years on a single charge. When the first watch arrived, it surpassed expectations by meeting those requirements — and then some.
The G-Shock’s popularity wasn’t just a function of its innovative design, but the marketing that went into it. It takes a lot for a commercial to get accused of false advertising, have people replicate the commercial, prove that it actually was real, and immediately give the product a massive popularity boost, yet that’s exactly what happened when Casio released the G-Shock onto the American market in 1988 with this commercial, featuring a hockey player using the watch as a hockey puck.
After Casio was accused of false advertising, people started hitting their own G-shocks across the ice and found that they still worked afterward. Since then, the G-Shock became the designated watch for tough guys and gals everywhere. This first iteration of the G-Shock featured a stopwatch, 200 meters of water resistance, and a light to illuminate the display. In every way, it was an 80s digital watch: blocky, utilitarian, and blatant in its styling as whatever people in the 80s thought the future would look like. The G-Shock DW-5000C established the visual design that every G-Shock since has followed.
The biggest advantage of the durable G-Shock was that it was affordable, retailing for 11,410 Japanese Yen, or $103 in today’s money. This made it affordable for nearly everyone while providing legendary durability, which immediately endeared it to everyone from environmentalist outdoor enthusiasts to fighter pilots.
In the decades since the G-Shock was introduced, it’s gone through several iterations, but the longest-running available design has to be the Casio G-Shock DW5600. The biggest difference between the 5600 and the original is it uses an electro-luminescence for the backlight rather than an incandescent light bulb. The feature not only improves illumination in low light but also the battery life.
The G-Shock 5600 is also a great unisex option. It’s remarkably smaller than the chunkier options that were developed alongside, showing that sometimes a design just sticks. It’s available with a variety of optional features like solar power, Bluetooth connectivity, materials, and more, but no matter what you pick, it’ll still have the same “square” DNA as the original 5600 model. Best of all, it’s still one of the most affordable options, meaning that people looking for a cheap watch will no doubt be unknowingly taking part in a long tradition of wearing the DW-5600.
Certain military communities (like Navy SEALs, because it’s always Navy SEALs) need watches that are extremely accurate, reliable, and capable underwater. And, for the latter, it needs more than waterproofing. While modern divers use advanced technology to calculate things like oxygen consumption at certain depths, it’s helpful to have a backup. Herein lies the G-Shock Frogman. While it comes in at a significant price increase over other variants, it’s not without good reason.
When Casio introduced the Frogman, the idea of a dive-rated digital watch was unheard of. Digital watches were cool, and some were mildly water-resistant, but a 100 percent certified option was totally lacking. Every single G-Shock Frogman is tested to ensure that it meets ISO standards, and this watch is as much of a dive companion as it is a timekeeping device. The Frogman is another example of how every new G-Shock was a first in the world of digital timekeeping, rather than being like many other watch brands and simply copying what luxury brands do.
With options by FitBit, Garmin, Coros, and more, there are tons of fitness trackers available, but a lot of them are too fragile or lack the battery life for military use. Now, enter the G-Shock Power Trainer. It’s a chunky, overbuilt, and extremely durable watch that’s also the ideal fitness tracker for the extremely active person in (or out) of uniform. In addition to the tactical design and looks, the Power Trainer is equipped with features that are more and more common with fitness trackers. Features like Bluetooth connectivity so it can connect to a smartphone, step counters, fitness goals, and more.
The Casio Master of G is for those of you who have Omega Speedmaster money but love the look and feel of the G-Shock. Representing the pinnacle of G-Shock excellence, it’s Casio’s luxury G-Shock brand. It has a titanium construction, gold-plated connectors, steel suspension system, Bluetooth connectivity, and gorgeous selective polishing.
The Casio Master of G line is extremely limited, being more of a work of art than a product, and so by the time this article publishes, the one linked is likely sold out. But they exist as a reminder of how craftsmanship can be applied to any item, including your $50 resin square that’s not winning any beauty contests.
Finally, there’s my personal G-Shock, one that I’ve taken in the water, in the desert, in the forest, and everywhere else. The key feature of the G-Shock DW9052 is that it has displays that provide a visual countdown timer that lets you have a different way to see how close you are to the next minute. I didn’t buy it for that, because I can just read the numbers on the display like a normal person. I got it because it was the cheapest G-Shock available, and I needed a watch. However, this is a great example of the little niche functions that Casio builds into these watches. I’m sure somewhere, there’s a person who wants a visual representation of elapsed time in a bar graph display, and while it’s not for me, I can respect the little touches like that.
I’m a watch collector. I own luxury watches and practical designs. But as I write this brief tour of the wide world of G-Shock, I’m wearing the DW-9052, which I bought at the PX for $40. I consider this a reminder that G-Shock watches continue to have broad appeal. It’s available in a variety of styles, so there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re a man, woman, surfer, Marine, or diver, there’s a G-Shock that’ll serve your niche. It’s a workhorse of a watch and it’s here to stay.