Behind the HYPE: How CASIO Became One of the Most Prolific and Recognizable Watchmakers in Contemporary Culture

Behind the Japanese manufacturer’s distinctive design ethos and archive of retro-futuristic wrist pieces.

Watches
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Few brands have timestamped the evolution of technology and fashion through eras like CASIO. The manufacturer was once known for producing keyboards and calculators before entering the watch category in the early 1970s. Harnessing its LSI technology when developing its first watch, CASIO set a precedent for creating innovative timepieces. 

In the latest episode of Behind the HYPE, Hypebeast explores the rise of CASIO’s design heritage and the company’s journey to becoming the most recognized and prolific watchmaker in history. 

CASIO paved exciting ground when it launched its first-ever watch in 1974. Coined the CASIOTRON, the digital watch exemplified CASIO’s modernistic approach to design as it was the world-first model to feature a built-in auto calendar. In 1977, the retro-futuristic F-100 was the first CASIO model to usher in resin componentry, a hardwearing material intended to withstand everyday wear and tear. Released in 1989, the F-91W solidified the company’s reputation for utility and sporting practicality. Also incorporating resin materials, the novel watch concept advanced CASIO’s disruptive ability to create lightweight and durable wrist pieces. Unlocking a world of possibility, the F-91W still holds the record for the bestselling digital watch of all time while showcasing CASIO’s versatile appeal as a lifestyle brand.

Debuting the C-80 in 1980, followed by the CA-50, CASIO introduced a calculator-style watch — the first of its kind — catapulted to mainstream popularity after being worn by Michael J. Fox in the Back to the Future film franchise. From there, silver screen cameos established CASIO’s rising presence as a household name, famously appearing on the wrists of Tom Cruise in the Mission Impossible series and, most recently, Ryan Reynolds in Free Guy (2021). 

The Janus (AQ-500) arrived in 1982, marking CASIO’s first-generation analog and digital watch, equipped with hour, minute and second hands. Named after the Roman two-headed god of time, Janus’ namesake nodded to the wrist accessory’s refined, elegant wearability. Its successor, the 1983 launch of Janus Read Sensor (AT-550), was a pioneering feat and technical achievement. Boasting an analog and digital combination, the streamlined model also unveiled touchscreen (Finger Trace Recognition System) and calculator capabilities.  

Released in 1983 under G-SHOCK, CASIO’s sub-brand of shock-resistant timepieces, the DW-5000C presented groundbreaking resin componentry in a unique square face design. Creator and designer Kikuo Ibe sought to develop a nearly indestructible watch that could survive a 10-meter drop and withstand 10 atmospheres of water pressure, all while presenting a 10-year battery life. One of G-SHOCK’s most beloved and iconic watches, the DW-5000C inspired a new generation of “tough watches,” reliable, built-to-last successors inheriting shock-resistant elements.

Thus was born G-SHOCK’s legacy, a watch brand distinguished by its rugged design ethos, a penchant for vibrant, eye-catching colorways and a robust portfolio of high-profile collaborations with some of the most influential names in the streetwear space, including Billionaire Boys Club, thisisneverthat, Hidden.NY, Bodega and BEAMS, Stussy, Kith, BAPE and more. 

A noteworthy collaboration with hip-hop giant Wu-Tang Clan celebrated the musical group’s 30th anniversary, paying homage to G-SHOCK’s lasting legacy as a beacon of street style and hip-hop. In 2023, G-SHOCK celebrated its 40th anniversary with the limited-edition GD-001, replete with an 18-karat gold construction. Designed by human and AI engineering, the model ushered in another first for CASIO. It’s the most expensive G-SHOCK ever sold in history, auctioned for a bid of $400,050 USD, including buyer’s premium.   

CASIO timepieces have graced notable celebrity wrists across film, music and sports, from the likes of Jared Leto, Chris Pine, The Rock, Pedro Pascal, Tyler the Creator and athletes like Serena Williams. Even world leaders like Barack Obama and the Pope have gravitated to CASIO’s nostalgic designs.

Through the eras, CASIO has remained the people’s watch — a trusted destination for consumers who value style, substance and functionality. Watches merely add up seconds, but following 50 years of design innovation, CASIO’s watches are generational time capsules, marking the rise and fall of trends throughout contemporary culture.

To learn more about CASIO’s history, watch the video above. Dive into G-SHOCK’s ever-growing collection here, and stay tuned on Hypebeast for upcoming Behind the HYPE episodes.

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