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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2 comments
MarkCarson
MarkCarson

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.

bluzer
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, it was derogatory graffiti towards one of the emperors so he passed a law that all sundials were to use IIII. I think I read that one on the TimeZone.

Cheers

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