When the TAG Heuer Carrera Glassbox 39mm came out this January, I was stoked. It was easily one of the new watches for 2023 I was most excited for and intrigued about. I have never been a TAG Heuer fan. In fact, I have never actually owned one. I don’t really have anything against the brand. It’s just that there were always options that appealed to me ever so slightly more, or represented a better value.
I love vintage Heuer chronographs like the various Skippers and Autavias, and this new release looked like a step in the right direction for a brand who has been struggling to define their role and identity in the watch market for a few years. So when I had an opportunity to review a TAG of my choosing, the TAG Heuer Carrera Glassbox was first on my wrist.
TAG Heuer Carrera Glassbox Chronograph Specs
|39mm x 13.9 x 46mm
|TH20-00 Automatic In-House Caliber
The fantastic TH20-00 movement
Gone are the days where if you wanted a chronograph under $8-10K, you were getting a Lemania-based caliber like in the Speedmaster or more likely one of the movements in the Valjoux 7750 family. While there are many brands like IWC, Breitling, Omega, and others that are now doing in-house chronograph calibers in this price range, TAG’s TH20 is arguably the most impressive. This is an automatic, column wheel, bi-directional winding, vertical clutch chronograph movement with an impressive 80-hour power reserve and a 5 year warranty. This movement isn’t spectacular to look at, modestly finished without flair and in a modern, utilitarian style.
At the $6.5k mark where its main competition is the Speedmaster’s glorious but archaic manual winding movements, IWC’s loosely in-house heavily ETA-based movements, and Tudor’s borrowed B01 movements, this Carrera stands out. An interesting observation I had when winding the watch—the winding action did not feel like any Sellita or ETA-based chronograph. It has much more of the positive, old-school clicky-ness of the Speedmaster than the grainy wind of a Valjoux.
Great neo-vintage case
I love the case TAG is using for these Carrera chronographs. Following in the footsteps of vintage models was always going to be a challenge, but TAG have struck the sweet spot here between vintage wearability and modern quality. The case is a perfect 39mm in diameter with a thickness of 13.9mm, which may sound to be a bit on the thicker side. However, on wrist it’s balanced and melts into your wrist well. The mid case is finely brushed with polished upper lugs that twist outward, reflecting light like a mirror and making the watch seem a bit smaller on the wrist than the 39mm sizing suggests.
I also do not mind the 12 o’clock date placement of this movement. It is nearly unreadable when the chronograph is reset and stationary but it is a good way of integrating a date function while preserving symmetry of the tri-compax layout. Chronograph pushers are something not everyone does properly but I love the modern twist on classic pump pushers TAG has gone with here. They are slightly thicker than the vintage equivalent and the pushers themselves have a fine polished bevel surrounding a circular brushed center. Along with an easy to use and well-finished crown, the pushers compliment the overall design.
Sweet ‘Glassbox’ crystal
When talking about the case you have to mention the highly doomed “Glassbox” crystal that gives this watch such a unique wearing experience. Much of that comes from the design, which does away with the traditional external tachymeter bezel and instead features a sapphire crystal that encompasses the breadth to the watch head. This crystal makes up at least 2-3mm of height in the watch, again allowing for a thinner wearing experience than the 13.9mm thickness suggests.
This crystal is as clear as the water on a remote Mediterranean island, no unsightly milky ring obstructs any part of the dial. The anti-reflective coating could be a bit stronger, but the watch is highly legible in any lighting. This is one of my favorite crystals on a watch in this segment, and the way it seems to wrap up and around the inner tachymeter scale is worthy of its nickname-earning status.
Comfortable leather strap and deployant clasp
This watch comes on a pretty decent leather strap and deployant buckle. It’s a black perforated strap that is soft and supple right out of the box. The strap is one of the better OEM leather straps I have seen on a sub $10k watch, for me not a deciding factor in purchasing a watch but a nice plus. The deployant clasp is unoffensive, simple, and thin enough that you don’t think of it at all while the watch is on your wrist. One slightly annoying item about the clasp is that it is all polished, which means the part of the watch most likely to pick up scratches and desk diving scuffs will age very poorly.
A dial that screams TAG
I have been pretty glowing in my commentary of this watch thus far, deservedly so. But this dial is where things get interesting. The layout is fantastic and I think this is seriously one of the best looking watches to leave a TAG factory in the last 15 years. Applied indices, a dial that morphs from a slate black to a dark chocolate brown, and a reverse panda colorway should make for a compelling package. Bluntly, the execution here is not good.
Let’s start with the indices. These are applied and all high-polish, and they rise prominently from the dial. However the finishing just is not great. The polished top which is supposed to be flat has the cheap, barely discernible wavy look that polished plastic has. I am not saying they are made of plastic as I have no idea if they are or not. But the polishing in conjunction with whatever actual material they used is just not up to a luxury level. They photograph well and in the videos I have seen on this watch they look fine. But I do not exaggerate when I say that as soon as I picked this watch up the stark lack of quality made me say ‘Hmmm..’ as it doesn’t look great in the flesh. In the same magnitude that a Grand Seiko’s zaratsu polishing is heads and shoulders above its peers, this Glassbox’s polished tidbits on the dial lag behind. Not all polishing is equal.
The hands have the same problem, especially the center chronograph hand and the hands in the sub-dials. The hour and minute hands are honestly not bad, I love the slightly angled polish sections with centers filled with black paint and creamy lume. The chronograph hands just feel slightly left behind in the quality department. They are all highly polished, but they lack any detail and the polishing is not all that great. They seem like they are stamped out, polished a bit, and thrown on the watch.
Those hands on the sub-dials are also oddly far away from their respective sub-dials, rising far enough from the dial that you can easily see the unsightly hole they poke out from. This may sound like I am nitpicking, and perhaps I am, but the execution here is just not up to the $6,000+ price tag. The sub-dials tell a similar story but I think they are a bit better done than the hands and indices. They too are applied and add a nice depth to the dial. In bright light they have a grainy, unfinished texture, and the printing of the numbers on the concentric patterned center sections is just okay.
The dial of this watch is trying too hard to be up-scale. It reminds me of a lower end micro brand or an AliExpress watch that just highly polishes every part of the dial in hopes that it will look more expensive than it really is. TAG has obviously tried very hard to make this dial have enough bling for a sharp Wow factor to the uninitiated. I was honestly shocked by the face of this watch when I picked it out from the case. I was fully expecting to be instantly smitten by the its good looks. I think this subpar dial is so jarring because it is starkly contrasted by the superb case.
There is so much to like about this watch. It has an awesome movement, among the best in class at its price point even if it is not the prettiest to look at. The positive tactility that accompanies actuating the chronograph pushers is right up there in feel with the El Primeros of this world. The case is awesome, expertly finished, and in an absolutely perfect size for the masses at 39mm. The crystal is easily one of the most unique and cool crystal-case combos out there right now and is a worthy hallmark of this watch.
I personally have a hard time ignoring this subpar dial, and it overshadows the great attributes of the rest of the watch. The dial is the part of a watch that you spend the most time looking at, and this TAG just falls short here. The applied indices and sub-dials have tangible depth but are shallow in attention to detail. With the substitution of similarly styled indices from a Tissot, Seiko, or Hamiliton you could instantly elevate the quality of this dial. The hands on the sub-dials could easily have been plucked from any cheap, quartz chronograph under $1,000 and they are lazily stamped and polished. This dial, despite its truly iconic design, lacks consistent quality and is not up to a $6,000+ price tag, which is an absolute shame.
I was fully and totally prepared to fall in love with this watch. I sought this watch out for review as chronographs are my favorite watch sub-genre and this surely had to be a great first experience with this storied brand. When it was launched earlier this year to universal praise as a watch that is among the first cobblestones in TAG Heuer’s path to heal their brand I couldn’t wait to get hands on with it. Instead of the suave, tuxedo of a watch I thought I was getting, this Glassbox turned out to be more akin to Daniel Craig in Carhartt overalls. Underneath, this watch is impeccably powered and timelessly cased.
But the rough face that clothes this watch is an unsightly anachronism. The cynical part of me thinks that TAG spent all their budget on the case and movement of this watch and perhaps correctly gambled that the average purchaser of this watch will be wowed by just how much this watch gleams in the sunlight and thus tossed hastily polished bits to the front and center of the watch.
As much as my watch-idiot-savant mind is disappointed with the dial of this watch, the rest of this watch is equally awesome. This is not a bad watch, simply a victim of an insanely competitive and crowded space. This is a watch that would have been better off in my opinion at an $8k price point with a killer dial than a technical marvel with a face only a mother could love at $6k. If you love the look of this watch and after holding it in your hands aren’t bothered by the dial, then you should have no qualms about adding this into your watch box. I, however, will be patiently waiting for TAG to do the Heuer back catalog properly and pass on this particular chronograph.
Thanks to Moyer Fine Jewelers for opening up their case and allowing me the opportunity to spend some time with this TAG Glassbox for a hands on review. This type of review is what makes our partnership with Moyer so special. It allows us the ability to honestly review a watch without fears that a perturbed brand may cut us off from future releases. I have personally been visiting them for many years and can easily recommend them to anyone looking to purchase a TAG Heuer or any of the other brands they carry.
Ben is a midwesterner who was infected with the watch contagion when he needed a watch to time his long runs in high-school. Now as a mildly functional family man his fleeting fascination has hemorrhaged into terminal obsession of all things clocks and watches. He loves hunting for eclectic watches well off the beaten path. Adequate culinary concoctions, mediocre photography, and massive enthusiasm for cars and all of the dying sci-fi franchises round out his other passions.