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Why is IIII used instead of the IV on clock dials?

July 08, 2021 2 min read

Ingersoll watch

Have you ever noticed this?

A striking fact in some watches is the way of writing the number four. Many of the most famous watches in the world use the Roman digits to indicate the hours on the dial, but the number four is written as IIII instead of IV. You can see this in our watches collection.

In today's blog we explain the different theories used to explain this phenomenon.

1. ETRUSCAN NUMERATION

Roman numbers come from Etruscan numeration, and before the Romans transformed this system, the number four was written as: IIII.

2. ROMAN MYTHOLOGY AND JUPITER

Rome’s supreme deity was Jupiter, spelt it in Latin as IVPPITER, this is the reason why too many people considered improper to use the initials of a God to refer just to a number, so they prefer to use the number IIII than IV.

3. THE KING IS NEVER WRONG

A more modern theory involves French King Louis XIV who ordered a clock for the Palais de la Cité, nowadays La Conciergerie (Paris). When the final result was shown to the monarch he reproached the watchmaker that the correct way to write four was IIII and not IV. 

Although the watchmaker pointed out that he was wrong, the monarch replied "The King is never wrong" and made him change the aesthetic of the watch.

A legend says the watchmaker was executed for his mistake, leading other colleagues to start using the number IIII in their timepieces.

Montblanc watchMontblanc Watch

4. AESTHETIC AND VISUAL BALANCE

Current theories maintain that the IIII instead of IV is due to an effect of visual harmony created by the symmetry between the IIII and the VIII which is located on the opposite side of the dial.

Whatever the reason, we can not overlook that the IIII is displayed in some of the most famous clocks and watchmaking brands in the world, such as  Raymond Weil or Ingersoll, among others.

Find more watches in our catalogue!


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