Why Do Roman Numeral Watches Display IIII instead of IV?

Roman Numerals
Seiko Chronograph Watch
This Seiko Chronograph Watch shows the number 4 as “IIII”

Unless you are an avid watch collector (or just an avid watch coveter), you may not have noticed that most, if not all watches that display Roman Numerals instead of standard modern digits use the symbol ‘IIII’ instead of ‘IV’ on the watch face. But why is this? There are actually quite a few theories for the use of ‘IIII’ on watch faces, and here are a few explanations:

Why Do Roman Numeral Watches Display IIII instead of IV?

There is a tale that there once was a famous clockmaker who created a watch for King Louis XIV, the king of France. He presented this watch to the king with the standard ‘IV’ in place of the ‘4’, and was forced to change it to ‘IIII’ as King Louis XIV thought that was how it should be written. Even after being told that ‘IV’ was correct, King Louis was adamant, and the watchmaker had to write the 4 as ‘IIII’. This may just be a story with little truth behind it, but it was actually originally much more common to use ‘IIII’ to represent four in the past. This is due to the fact that the Roman god Jupiter’s Latin name, IVPPITER begins with ‘IV’ and this could be confusing if used as a number as well.

Another story, which actually has a bit of sense to it, is that on the opposite side of the clock dial to ‘IIII’, the ‘VIII’ symbol is the heaviest number, made up of four heavy strokes and one light stroke. It would completely ruin the symmetry of the watch face to have ‘IV’ with only two heavy strokes on one side. Instead, ‘IIII’ has four heavy strokes, making the watch face more aesthetically pleasing.  This numeral ‘IIII’ is known as a ‘watchmaker’s four’, and is actually much more visible from all sorts of angles so you can quickly and easily tell the time

Author: Laura Caldwell

I love words, punctuation and plosive sounds so you don't have to. I have over 5 years experience of writing for, running and editing my own news, reviews and previews website in Northern Ireland and I love travelling above almost everything else. I also have a first class honours degree in Journalism, so know my way around a thesaurus and am slowly making my way around the globe, one city break at a time.

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