Ever since the Rolex Paul Newman Daytona exploded in popularity and price, along with it, exploded the popularity of panda dial chronographs.
These watches are at their highest point in popularity. True cult classics and, to some, the holy grail of all vintage wristwatch collecting.
But, with such an outrageous price tag, the Paul Newman Daytona is one panda dial that’s completely out of reach for most people, financially.
But what if you wanted an affordable panda dial alternative?
In this article, I’ll be going over some of my favorite panda dial chronographs on a budget. Some are homages to the classic Rolex Daytona model, while some are more original and have their own unique flair.
All of these models are relatively affordable panda chronographs that can be had for under $500, though some for much less. All except one are at least partially mechanical, though they all have a second hand with a smooth sweep, that looks as if it were mechanical.
Anyway, enough rambling. Here are 5 of my favorite budget panda dial chronographs.
MY PICK: BEST BUDGET PANDA DIAL CHRONOGRAPH
1. Orient NEO70s WV0041TX
The best budget panda dial chronograph is the Orient Neo70s Panda, in my opinion. It’ is a lovely watch that has got many hours of wrist time on my own personal wrist. What an honor! 😉
The Orient Neo70’s has a milky dial that’s colored somewhere between white and cream and makes the watch look oh so classy. It definitely takes some design inspiration from the popular Paul Newman Daytona, but has enough design queues of its own, such as skeletonized stick hands, an off-center date wheel and an internal black bezel with minute markers that give the watch some extra contrast and a unique flair.
The watch is powered by a Seiko solar quartz movement. It charges under direct light and has a power reserve of up to 6 months
While not a mechanical watch, the stopwatch second hand has a smooth sweep like that of a mechanical. The chronograph has a 60-minute stopwatch feature.
Once you switch out the stainless steel bracelet for a 22mm vintage leather style rally strap in brown or black, it becomes a truly marvelous looking piece that looks and feels way more expensive than it really is.
The Orient Neo70s panda dial is just one of many color variations of this watch, but in my opinion, the most beautiful.
The only problem is this model is getting harder and harder to find in the states, though it’s a little more easily available internationally on ebay. There are newer variations of this model more easily available (and cheaper) on Amazon, though.
THE BEST PAUL NEWMAN DAYTONA HOMAGE
2. Alpha Daytona Paul Newman
The Alpha Daytona Paul Newman is yet another homage heavily influenced by the original Paul Newman ‘Panda’ Daytona. I’d argue it’s the best Paul Newman Daytona homage on the market.
It uses the exact hand winding, mechanical column wheel chronograph as the Seagull 1963 watch, which is again, pretty rare to find at this price point.
It has very similar dimensions to the original Paul Newman Panda, with a 20mm lug width to match.
It also has a slightly domed acrylic crystal which adds some nice distortion and visual interest at different viewing angles, and helps add to the ‘vintage’ aesthetic.
It’s not an automatic watch, so you’ll have to hand wind it every day or so, to keep the watch running, but to some, that’s part of the charm of owning a mechanical timepiece.
THE BEST MODERN ROLEX DAYTONA ‘PANDA’ HOMAGE
3. Parnis ‘Panda’ Daytona
The Parnis Daytona has a very close resemblance to the modern and recent Rolex Daytona models. You could definitely consider this one a homage as it has very few design queues of its own.
But what does set the Parnis Daytona apart, is the build quality, for the price.
You’re getting a mecha-quartz movement which is a mechanical and quartz hybrid that keeps excellent time, but still has the smooth second hand sweep of a mechanical watch.
The Parnis Daytona also has a ceramic bezel, sapphire crystal and a somewhat decent stainless steel bracelet with brushed and polished links, very reminiscent of the modern Daytona.
They also offer a reverse panda dial
This is the model to get if you love the current Rolex Daytona, but just don’t have the cash.
The Seagull 1963 Panda is a modernized remake of the exact chronograph model made for the Chinese Airforce in 1963. The original is highly sought after by watch collectors for its strong history as well as its classic design.
The Seagull 1963 is a hand wind, fully mechanical chronograph. It uses a column wheel, which is an extremely coveted and desirable chronograph movement by most watch lovers, as it takes fine craftsmanship to build, is extremely durable and ultimately very rare to find at such a low price point.
The chronograph has a 30 minute timer on the right sub-dial.
They also offer a reverse panda dial (black dial with white subdials) and a more military, retro inspired, off-white colored with golden hour markers.
5. Dan Henry 1964 ‘Gran Turismo’
The Dan Henry 1964 Gran Turismo is a bit of a wildcard pick. It’s not a panda dial chronograph in the traditional sense, in that it has a silver and black dial as opposed to white/cream and black.
But that doesn’t at all take away from its charm.
It’s a moderately sized 38mm chronograph which gives the watch a vintage appeal, period correct to the 1964 model name. It’s also quite refreshing compared to the modern state of watches, often too large for my taste and honestly, sometimes gaudy.
The watch has a mineral crystal with a sapphire coating and anti-reflective treatment to help preserve the somewhat pronounced domed crystal. The domed crystal adds some distortion and visual interest when viewing the watch at an angle, and certainly adds to the vintage charm.
This watch gives you just the right amount of wrist presence. Being reasonably sized with a stunning sunburst silver dial and a blue second hand that adds a pop of color, it’s hard not to stop and stare.
They offer a variety of color combinations, including a reverse panda dial with a black dial and silver sub-dials.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Panda Dial?
A panda dial is a dial on any watch with a white (or off-white) colored dial, and black colored sub dials. More recently, other watches with a very light dial and very dark subdials of any colors are sometimes nicknamed ‘panda dials’ even though they are not a panda dial in the traditional sense.
An example of this is the Dan Henry 1964 Gran Turismo, where the dial is silver and the subdials are black. This isn’t the traditional setup of a panda dial, however, some still call it a panda dial because of its resemblance.
A panda dial watch is most typically found on a chronograph, which almost always features 2 or more sub dials, which are colored differently from the main dial, to give it that ‘panda’ appearance.
What is a Reverse Panda Dial?
A reverse panda dial is simply the reversed colors of a panda dial. On a reverse panda dial, the main dial is a much darker color, usually black, than the sub dials, usually white/cream.
What is the Paul Newman Daytona and Why is it so Popular?
The Paul Newman Daytona is the nickname given to the Rolex Daytona Reference #6239.
One particular Paul Newman Daytona, owned by the legendary actor Paul Newman himself, was auctioned off for over $17,000,000 (yes, you read that right) in New York City, 2017. Source.
It apparently sold on Hodinkee’s shop for over $175,000. My favorite part is the bit at the bottom, where it lists the specs.
“Sapphire Crystal: No, plexi-glass.”
What is a Chronograph?
A chronograph is a watch, mechanical or quartz, that has an additional chronograph complication.
The chronograph functions as a stopwatch, measured using both sub-dials inside of the larger watch dial to keep track of larger increments of time (usually up to 60 minutes) and the large main second hand that keeps track of the seconds elapsed.
A chronograph watch usually has a small subdial dedicated to the current second, while the larger, main second hand is used to determine the time elapsed when using the chronograph stopwatch feature.
A chronograph usually has two pushers on the side of the watch, usually the right side.
The top pusher often functions as a start/stop button for the chronograph, and the bottom pusher often functions as a reset. This can vary from model to model, so be sure to look up the documentation for your specific watch if you’re looking for a guide on how to use your chronograph.
Some chronographs, like the modern day Rolex Daytona, for instance, have a screw down crown surround the pushers that keep water from entering. These watches are usually water resistant, but not always.
Regardless, even with a water-resistant chronograph, you should never ever unscrew the crown, or use the chronograph pusher while the watch is submerged in water. This will almost always allow water to enter in your case and damage your watch.
The Final Verdict – My Favorite Panda Dial
My favorite affordable panda dial chronograph is currently the Orient Neo70s Panda.
I love how it takes a few design cues from the beautiful Paul Newman Daytona, while still having an original and unique look. Plus, it’s relatively affordable, when you can find it at the right price. It’s one of the watches I wear most.