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Why Do Watch Dials With Roman Numerals Use “IIII” Rather Than “IV?”

Jim B. from Long Beach, CA asks:

I am just starting into watch collection and over the weekend acquired my first watch with Roman numerals. I noticed that the “4” is ” IIII” not “IV”. Then looking on line I noticed that just about all watches used “IIII” not “IV”. Is there are reason for this?

This is a rather popular question because when people first notice them it is confusing. No, watch makers didn’t make a mistake and include the wrong Roman Numeral on the dial. “IIII” has been used instead of “IV” on dials for several hundred years actually. It is really a matter of aesthetics and visual symmetrical balance. Someone a long time ago, noticed that using that for 4 o’clock not only made a dial look visually better, but helped legibility when looking at the dial from different angles. It is called a “watchmaker’s four,” and it’s used for those reasons.

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  • bluzer

    You’re probably correct but answers involving the Romans are much more entertaining.
    The most common one I’ve seen was to avoid using the abbreviation for their god Jupiter (IVPITER).
    My favourite is that it was derogatory graffiti toward one of the emperors so he passed a law that all sundials were to use IIII. I think I read that one on the TomeZone.

  • The clock faces on the tower which houses Big Ben (which is a bell after all, not the tower itself), uses ‘IV”, not “IIII”. And I do also on my Individual Design watches. There is no definitive reason or answer for the IIII vs. IV use on clocks and watches. Lots of theories out there, pick the one you like.

  • Paul

    Don’t be ridiculous. The symmetry is between the width of the four, the eight and the twelve. Using four IIII ‘s makes the width of the four the same as the other two, and on a small clock face, this gives it a balanced look. The clock on Big Ben’s tower uses iv because the clock is so large, no imbalance can be noticed.

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