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Review: Casio G-Shock “CasiOak”

When I turned 16, I was given £100 for my birthday and, back then, it seemed like a fortune. The world, in that moment, had become my oyster. Today, however, £100 doesn’t seem to do a whole lot of anything. You certainly wouldn’t be able to purchase a watch that was actually pretty cool and interesting with it—or so I thought. Because £100—and $100 for that matter—is all you need to buy a watch that people have been clamouring over each other to get. It’s the Casio G-Shock GA-2100—the “CasioOak”. Here are three reasons why it’s the cheapest cool watch you can buy.

Nostalgia

There are a number of different reasons this particular watch gets it so right. Some are based on practical considerations, but the most important is one wholly linked to emotion. A watch brand just starting up could replicate this watch down to the last particle and they’d still be missing a core tenet of the CasiOak’s identity: nostalgia.

You see, when the first Casio, the Casiotron, came out in 1974, the Japanese electronics manufacturer had no idea what kind of a legacy it was building. Ironically, given its digital nature, Casio was priming children the world over to become mechanical watch enthusiasts. I haven’t met a single collector today that didn’t start with a Casio of some sort. A Casio watch holds memories of sitting on the school hall floor, singing hymns, picking paint off the wall. It recorded our fastest laps and slowed to a crawl when we asked out our first girlfriend. By this point, it’s practically in our DNA.

To rekindle that nostalgia, however, isn’t simply a case of making a superficial copy and asking Paul Rudd to try and carry it. A Casio has always been about an experience laced with bewildering displays and unfathomable controls, and the CasiOak does not disappoint. I had to watch a fifteen-minute video to remind me how to use one again.

And with the miniature display returning to its starting point, the memories of childhood Casio ownership came flooding back, too. Before the days of mobile phones and the internet, this meagre technology was a portal into the imagination, a device as space-age and exciting as it could get for a young boy. The chase for satisfaction in watch collecting today might be a different one, but it doesn’t get and more raw and real than with a Casio.

Octagon

The second reason I think this GA-2100 is so popular is the shape that gave it the nickname “CasiOak.” We’re all well aware how octo-fever is spreading across the world, slowly consuming all 1970s-inspired watches until there’s nothing left, and I feel a bit like the CasiOak is the result of a bet between two Casio executives to prove how deep the fever has set.

“I bet you,” I imagine one exec said to the other, “that we can make a cheap watch that sells out just by making it look a bit like a Royal Oak.” Okay, so that probably didn’t happen, but the outcome, nevertheless, is the same. The GA-2100 does indeed look a bit like a Royal Oak, and it did indeed sell out. There was probably some clever supply-and-demand stuff going on as well, but still, sell out it did.

The most incredible aspect of it wasn’t just that this watch sold out because it was popular with students scratching together the few pennies they had left over after tuition—people were adding these watches to collections replete with Rolexes and Patek Philippes. Collector forums were bristling with panicked posts asking where to buy one or sharing tips where there might be some left. People with tens of thousands of dollars in watches surged to buy one for $100! I’m pretty certain that’s one of things that’s supposed to happen before the rapture. We all know what happened next.

It is cynical to think this watch shamelessly rips off another popular design to grab cash from a ravenous market that’s got a bit out of control, but funnily enough, the CasiOak isn’t wholly unoriginal. Look back at the F-91 we all remember with a sigh and a tear, and you’ll see the DNA was always present, if more subtle. Integrated strap, check. Eight sides, check. Plastic so cheap it could well be made from recycled Sunny Delight cartons, check. The GA-2100 is 2100% Casio.

$100!

So, the CasiOak is cool, it’s nostalgic and it’s everything that’s popular right now in this wave of 70s and 80s memorabilia we’re all clinging on to. But the real kicker for this watch’s popularity and temporary scarcity is its price. At $100, it ranges from just about affordable to a whim, leaving no man behind. It is a true everyman’s watch, and thanks to the cyclic nature of popularity, it’s a true collector’s watch as well. The last time those two things were combined so seamlessly was when Steve McQueen wore a Rolex Submariner back in the 1970s. In case you’re wondering, a Rolex was very affordable back then.

It’s not like Casio has been immune to this ever-growing problem of rising RRPs, either. And who would blame them for attempting to assuage the collector’s market by making G-Shocks that cost thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars. Even a mid-level G-Shock can set you back the thick end of $500 these days, which seems insane when you consider the basics of what it actually is. Makes an iPhone seem, on paper at least, like a bit of a bargain by comparison.

But this here, this GA-2100, is the sweet spot. Cheap, cheerful and chill, it gets to the heart of what so many other supposedly more accomplished watchmakers just can’t get right. It doesn’t feel try-hard. It doesn’t feel rose-tinted or schmaltzy. It certainly doesn’t feel like some self-aggrandising pat on the back, either. In a world where you have to ask permission and say thank you for purchasing a manufacturer’s watch, where your behaviour is monitored to see if you’re worthy, being able to buy something just as cool for a fraction of the price is a big, fat middle finger to the whole system. And I love it.

Before I go, I’d like to tell you a quick story about this watch. Tom, our videographer and editor, was helping me figure out how to set the CasiOak and seemed to be stuck. The instructions told him to hold down a button until he heard that oh-so familiar high-pitched beep. Except he couldn’t hear it anymore. It was, honestly, a mortally humbling moment. So, whatever you do, remember that time is short. Buy a Casio, don’t buy a Casio—just remember to enjoy the time you have while you’ve got it.