You can spot a Panerai watch from across a room. Not just because of the brand's typically bold sizing, but also due to its distinctive design and Italian swagger that seems to seep into the wearer's skin. That image is only boosted by the brand's exclusivity factor, with prices well into luxury territory.
For $4,500 you can get the Panerai name and familiar silhouette on your wrist in the Radiomir Base Logo, and the iconic Luminor case with its unmistakeable crown guard is $500 more. Those are the most basic models without bells, whistles or in-house movements — the vast majority of Panerai watches are significantly more expensive, even when they are functionally very simple (often indicating only the time). It's the look (and quality), however, that continues to enthrall fans and garner some of the watch world's most ardent followers.
Panerai's genius is in its simplicity, and it's quite possible that everyone sees something different in these watches, even if they're equally captivated. Does a Panerai watch have to be big? Is it defined by its lume-sandwich-style of dial, its cushion case shape, Roman numeral font or the Luminor's crazy crown guard mechanism? Or is it simply its bold, plainly handsome character? All of the above?
There are many Panerai knockoffs and homages out there, and we're not here to introduce you to copycats. Rather we want something that offers a watch-wearing experience that's somehow comparable to that Panerai magic — and I'm fully convinced that uniqueness is part of it. Though highly subjective, the three watches below each offers an attractive, affordable alternative to the Panerai feel in its own way.
New Zealand-based Magrette has been making affordable diving-focused watches for a lot longer than many microbrands. Many of their watches qualify as possible Panerai alternatives thanks to their cushion-like cases, legible sandwich-style dial and moderately bold sizing. This particular model measures 42mm wide and has a pretty reasonable price considering its Swiss automatic movement and premium features like sapphire crystal — oh, and its extreme water resistance of 500m.
Movement: ETA 2824 Automatic
Water Resistance: 500m
Price: $300 (preorder)
If you love the footprint of Panerai's cushion case but not those bumptious sizes, check this out. The Nivada Depthmaster, also sometimes called "mini-Panerai" by collectors due to its case shape, was produced in the 1960s (when this case shape was more common) — and its modern version is essentially identical, right down to its size. (It also offers some of its own unique flare, too, particularly with its "PacMan" numerals.) At 39mm on an average-sized wrist, it'll probably wear about the same as a Panerai does on Sylvester Stallone.
Movement: Sellita SW200 Automatic
Water Resistance: 100m
Price: $1,042 (available from July 2021)
Hear us out: Panerai, at its heart and in its origins, is a maker of dive watches even if only their Submersible collection features the rotating bezel modern consumers expect on a dive watch. The Bell & Ross BR 03-92 Diver obviously has that diving character with its serious, legible dial, but it's also got the big, unique wrist presence. Though it measures 42mm, its square case shape helps it wear a lot bigger and makes it a good option for those who consider size to be an essential part of Panerai's charm.
Movement: Sellita SW300 Automatic
Water Resistance: 300m