Well, here's my take on it. Keep in mind...you asked.
When I first saw Panerai I thought they were the ugliest things I had ever seen. Big, clunky watches with fat numbers. Too simple and too large. My grail watch was along the lines of a Sub or a Seamaster Pro. Maybe a VC Overseas or an IWC Portuguese for a dress watch. Something of more modest dimensions. I guess I was looking for higher-end, but with some measure of discretion; definitely not a trendy big watch, and especially not the clumsy look of a Panerai.
One day I was in Torneau in Vegas, while on business. I thought I would stop by to visit my grails in person and drool over the cases until they asked me to leave. As I was being escorted out (just kidding):laugh:, I happened to notice the Panerai display and thought I would take a look since they had a remarkably good selection that day.
Wow...I finally realized why there is a cult following for these watches. You really have to try them on in person. What I had thought was a big, stupid watch was actually a bold, agressive, and very well made timepiece. The feel of this thing on the wrist (PAM 111) was enough to change my mind entirely. the crown protector, the crystal, luminous sandwich dial, all together in one watch, made a solid package that gave the impression that I could do anything in it. It's kind of creepy that a watch could give one magical powers, but there really is a visceral sensation that captivates (perhaps the weaker-minded of us). Again, to get it, you must try it on physically. After all, the sensation that I felt was the physical presence, not the aesthetic, which is usually the first inclination that we have when choosing a watch. I have to get one.
As to the question of the prices. In the catagory that I was looking at (the grail catagory), most of those watches were 5,000usd and up. The VC was 10,600 and some of them topped the 20k mark. So if you're keeping that kind of company, four to five figures is not uncommon.
Back to the point. You can get a PAM 005, which gives you all of the classic look and feel of a Panerai, for around 4000usd. I don't really need more than that. Yes, you can get the gold or platinum, or the "Stallone" cachet, or the fru-fru stuff that the Richmont group has added since they bought them, if you want to pay for it.
My theory for the higher prices is that one is first drawn to the physical properties of Panerai, and then, once they're hooked, pay for the extra bling. If I want bling I'll get a leopard Daytona or an iced out DJ.
So...there's my take on it. If you haven't tried one on, go for it. The response may be surprsing. Still they aren't for everyone, and some people that I've talked to (that have tried them on) think I'm totally nuts, and don't see the draw.