Back in 2015, when I first saw that TAG Heuer was offering a Carrera chronograph in a “glass box” case, I wondered what in the world this could possibly mean. What would “glass box” mean in the world of watches? The answer – TAG Heuer had engineered a new style of domed sapphire crystal to be used on its 39 millimeter Carrera case, with the geometry of the crystal mimicking the look of the original plastic crystals used on the Heuer Carrera chronographs in the 1960s. The sapphire is the “glass” and the dome forms the “box”.
Over the past six years, TAG Heuer has offered seven Carreras in the glassbox case, all of them limited editions. With today’s introduction of an eighth glassbox chronograph, it is fitting for us to look at all these models, exploring where they came from and why they appeal to today’s collectors. In this quick tour, we’ll follow the order of the vintage Heuer predecessors, to see how TAG Heuer has captured the style of some of its legendary chronographs in these Carreras.
Today’s enthusiasts celebrate that the 39 millimeter glass box case gives TAG Heuer the perfect vessel to showcase Heuer’s classic chronographs from the 1960s and 70s. The case works perfectly in a range from the pure minimalism of the very first Heuer Carreras to the wild styles and colors that dominated the 1970s. The glass box Heuer Carrera has inspired today’s designers to dream of new models, some that capture the essence of the Heuer heritage and others that reflect today’s styles.
1963 – The First Carrera
Heuer introduced the Carrera in 1963, as an entirely new style of chronograph for racing. Top priorities in designing the watch were that it be suitable for operation in racing conditions, easily legible for driver or navigator, and rugged enough to withstand the demands of racing. Jack Heuer’s minimalist approach resulted in a pure design, stripped of all non-essential elements. To celebrate the 160th anniversary of the brand, in 2020, TAG Heuer introduced the TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Anniversary Silver LE (CBK221B), capturing the style of the original model, with a silver / white starburst dial.
This one may be for you if – you want the purity of design captured in the first Carreras, with the dramatic starburst finish
1968 – The Carrera Gets a Date
Heuer had added a date window to the Heuer Carrera in 1966, and in 1968 introduced an updated version of the Heuer Carrera 45 Dato that captured the dramatic style of the 1960s. The dial was black with a single white chronograph register at the right and a date window at the left, with the minimalist design dictating the deletion of the running seconds register. In February 2021, Hodinkee collaborated with TAG Heuer on a re-issue of this model (CBK221D), incorporating a black inner bezel to match the black dial.
This one may be for you if – you want the strongest, most dramatic version of the Heuer Carrera from the 1960s
1968 – Celebrating America’s Cup
In 1967, Heuer supplied equipment to the Intrepid team that was successful in defending America’s Cup, and they celebrated in 1968 by creating a new model of watch, the Skipper. Housed in the Heuer Carrera case, collectors call this first model the “Skipperrera”, and it is among the rarest and most valuable of the vintage Heuer chronographs. In 2017, Hodinkee collaborated with TAG Heuer on a tribute to this first Skipper (CAR221B), using the exact colors of the original Skipperrera, but incorporating the date element and asymmetrical minute recorder from the Heuer Carrera 45 Dato.
This one may be for you if – you want the colors and style that capture the revolution in the culture and style of the 1960s.
1968 – Colors of the 1960s
Offered in 2017, the “Blue Dreamer” Carrera (CAR221C) was a collaboration between TAG Heuer x The Rake & Revolution. While the watch had no single precedent among the 1960s Carreras, it clearly captured the style and energy of the decade. The Hodinkee Skipper re-issue colored the minute recorder in dark green, light green/blue and bright orange, while the Rake & Revolution version went with deep blue, light blue and off-white (with a hint of blue). The Rake & Revolution model opted for the balance of a running seconds register, in place of the date window.
This one may be for you if – you are looking for the right watch to wear at the beach or with you blue suede shoes.
1968 – For Racing – Three Registers and a Tachymeter Scale
The racer uses the tachymeter scale to convert time over a measured distance (the mile or the kilometer) into units per hour (MPH or KPH), and this scale has become the symbol of the racing watch. The rarest version of the tachymeter Heuer Carrera is from 1968 and features a black dial, with three black registers (for timing up to 12 hours), and a tachymeter scale printed in bright white. In 2019, Fragment Design collaborated with TAG Heuer on this re-issue (CBK221A), with the Fragment thunderbolts at the top of the dial and the Fragment name printed between 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock.
This one may be for you if – you want a three-register TAG Heuer Carrera that is built for racing (or dig the street wear).
1970 – The Birth of the Panda
Through its first six years, with the exception of the Heuer Carrera 45 Dato, the registers of the Heuer Carrera always matched the dial – white registers on the white dials and black registers on the black dial. All this changed in 1970, when Heuer introduced contrasting registers on the Carrera (white on black and black on white). The very first TAG Heuer Carrera glass box chronograph from Summer 2015 (CAR221A) offered a two-register Panda look, with anthracite (dark gray) registers on the white dial. The telemeter scale was used by artillery units, evoking Heuer’s heritage in military-issued watches.
This one may be for you if – you want to look like Matt Damon, in his role as Carroll Shelby, in the hit movie about Le Mans in the 60’s.
1972 – Montreal, Celebrating the Future
Most of the Heuer chronographs carry the names of racing venues, but the vintage Heuer Montreal (introduced in 1972) captures the spirit of the city that hosted the 1967 World’s Fair (also called “Expo 67”), with the theme of man’s dreams and hopes for the future. The Heuer Montreal chronographs certainly reflected the spirit of Expo 1967, with the massive futuristic case, five bright colors on the dial, bright red hands, and racing stripes on the registers. The TAG Heuer Carrera 160 Years Anniversary Montreal Limited Edition (CBK221C.FC6488) incorporates the 1970s style of the Montreal into the Carrera case, with a bright white dial, deep blue for the registers and ring, and yellow racing stripes and accents.
This one may be for you if – you want the wild style and colors of the 1970s in a watch that will easily fit under the cuff of your very traditional shirt.
2021 – Teal for Eternity
Introduced today, the eighth of the TAG Heuer glass box Carreras (CBK221F) shows that this series of chronographs will not be limited to the four corners of the brand’s heritage portfolio, but the 39 millimeter case can effectively complement today’s most vibrant colors. The teal dial adds a new tone to the TAG Heuer portfolio, drawing from the green used as a racing livery in the golden age of motor sports.
This one may be for you if – you want your watch box to cover the full range of the rainbow, but need a dramatic shade between the greens and the blues.
Jeff Stein Watch collector and creator of the OnTheDash.com website