watches with Roman numerals

Watches with Roman Numerals “IIII”: Fascinating Aesthetics

Intriguing and alluring stories behind watches with Roman numerals IIII

Date Published
August 18, 2023
Gnomon Watches
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Watches with Roman numerals design for the dial flaunt a charmingly elegant appearance and bring the flamboyant of classic history. It also carries something that today we refer to as an appalling typo. Some popular watches with Roman numerals use a “IIII” to indicate the hour ‘4’ instead of using the common “IV”. Regardless, do we really consider something a typo if it is intentional?

The watchmaking industry isn’t a market that just started yesterday and would make that mere mistake, right? It’s clearly a conscious decision as it’s something preserved for centuries. This article would take you exploring some possibilities that started the trend of using “IIII” instead of “IV” in watches with Roman numerals. 

Historical Origins and Symbolism

Roman numerals have a rich history that dates back to ancient Rome, where they were used extensively for numbering and naming purposes. Anyone familiar with the Roman numerals knows that the Arabic number 1, 2, and 3 are respectively represented by I, II, and III. The format changes at the number 4 which is changed to “IV” and 5 with “V”. 

In Roman numerals, a subtractive notation was employed where the idea was to simplify notation by representing numbers in the least number of characters. That said, a “IV” stands for 4 because it represents “one less than five” or “five minus one”. 

Many modern watches, even from renowned brands, employ this design, and watches with the Roman numerals “IIII” are still popular. These watches are also known as “clockmaker’s 4” which appears as a unique creation in the watchmaking industry.

The Story Behind Watches with Roman Numerals “IIII”

There are a number of theories explaining the possible reasons that started watches with the Roman numerals “IIII”. From a form of respect towards gods to the illiterate masses, most of them were based on a conscious decision. 

Therefore, it does sound silly when we say that using the number “IIII” is a mistake”. Making a timepiece stands as one of the most meticulous, time-demanding, and intricacy-focused endeavors globally. There’s a reason why few names, such as Swiss, Japanese, and German excel at it. 

To get you started, the first theory can be traced back to sundials, ancient timekeeping instruments that used Roman numerals to mark the hours. As the ancestor of clocks, the sundials use “IIII” to represent 4 rather than “IV” and that also applies to the number 9 which was written as “VIIII” instead of “IX”. 

The reason behind this phenomenon might have been influenced by a clash with the Latin alphabet and concerns about invoking the wrath of the mythological god Jupiter, the supreme deity in the Roman pantheon. In Latin, Jupiter’s name was spelled “IVPPITER,” and there could have been apprehensions about offending him by abbreviating his name (“IV”) on a timekeeping instrument’s face.

Moving on to the next theory of watches with Roman numerals “IIII” on the dial, the story springs from the 14th century during the reign of King Charles V of France. The King believed the number “IV” was associated with bad luck as it symbolized a year being substracted from his title and possibly signifying a reduction in his lifespan. 

Therefore, he banned the use of the Roman numeral ‘IV’ on the watch dial and opted to use “IIII” instead.  Others attribute the usage of “IIII” to Louis XIV, a later French King also known as “The Sun King”. As the ruler who perceived himself as the earthly representative of God, the King seemed to be offended to see part of his name on a mere watch dial, much like Jupiter in Roman mythology.

Other people also point out that the reason behind the watch with Roman numerals “IIII” is just something practical and simpler. It is said that using the number “IIII” rather than “IV” is easier for many uneducated European people during the Middle Ages.

Most average European people couldn’t read, write, and comprehend mathematical calculations. Therefore, grasping the concept of counting up to four would have been less complex than deducing the subtraction of one from five. Furthermore, it is suggested that using “IV” might have led to confusion with the neighboring “VI” located at the 6 o’clock position.

Seiko Presage Enamel Pwr Rsv Ref. SARW035 / SPB045J1 uses the Roman number 'IIII' instead of 'IV'
Seiko Presage Enamel Pwr Rsv Ref. SARW035 / SPB045J1 uses the Roman number ‘IIII’ instead of ‘IV’

Another practical reason that sounds more plausible is called the “lazy watchmaker” theory. It centers around the metal molds used to produce the applied indexes found on the early clock and watch faces. This theory mentioned that the utilization of “IIII” for 4 and “VIIII” for 9, encompassing all additive numerals up to 10, would necessitate only three molds.

The first mold of “IIII” can be used to cast numerals 1 through 4, the second mold of “VIIII” for the numerals 5 through 9, and the third mold of “XII” to cast numerals 10 through 12. On the other hand, using “IV” and “IX” would have demanded additional molds, thereby increasing the inefficiency of the manufacturing process.

The last explanation that would be the most suited reason in the modern market is balance and aesthetics. Watches with Roman numerals “IIII” strikes balance with the heavy “VIII” for 8 o’clock. That said, it would make perfect symmetry on the bottom half of the dial, allowing for a better and more appealing visual. 

We can also observe that using “IIII” instead of “IV” creates a balance sequence of four “I” numerals, followed by four “V” numerals, and then four “X” numerals. This option effectively divides the dial into three equal parts, creating a graceful and balanced progression.

Regardless of the alluring stories behind watches with Roman numerals “IIII”, some brands also opt to display the hour 4 in an index bar – to make a neutral choice and avoid making Jupiter offended.

Read also: Timeless Treasures: Exploring The Oldest Watches in History

Best 5 Watches with Roman Numerals “IIII” 

The appearance of watches with Roman numerals “IIII” does make an intriguing and captivating alternative that has made its mark in horological history. Not to mention that the Roman numeral itself brings a classic appeal.

Below are our top picks of watches with Roman numerals dials that might pick your interest.

Seiko Presage Enamel Pwr Rsv Ref. SARW035 / SPB045J1

Presented in an overall elegant and classic timepiece, the Seiko Presage Enamel Pwr Rsv Ref. SARW035 / SPB045J1 flaunts Roman numerals on the dial. Featuring a unique “IIII” numeral in place of the “IV”, Seiko tried to display its heritage through this watch. 

Seiko Presage Enamel Pwr Rsv Ref. SARW035 / SPB045J1
MovementCaliber 6R27
Dimensions40.5mm in diameter, 47.8mm lug to lug, 12.8mm thick, 22mm lug width
Water resistance100m

To further enhance the classic appeal, Seiko applied an impeccable fire-treated enamel dial crafted in the land of the rising sun. Regardless of the classic appearance, you can expect modern technology in this one. 

Driven by Seiko’s 6R automatic caliber, the 6R27, the watch boasts a reliable timekeeping instrument and chronograph. The movement operates at 28,800 BPH (4 Hertzs) with hacking and hand-winding capabilities. Equipped with 29 jewels, this Presage edition offers 45 hours of power reserve.

Orient Star Mechanical Classic Sky Blue Ref. RE-AT0203L

Another appealing watch with Roman numerals from a Japanese watch brand, the Orient Star Mechanical Classic Sky Blue Ref. RE-AT0203L displays a soft pastel blue dial. It radiates an evergreen aesthetic that delivers elegance for many occasions.

Orient Star Mechanical Classic Sky Blue Ref. RE-AT0203L
Orient Star Mechanical Classic Sky Blue Ref. RE-AT0203L
MovementCaliber F6R42
Dimensions40.4mm in diameter, 46.6mm lug to lug, 13mm thick, 20mm lug width
Water resistance50m

This is also a watch with the Roman numerals “IIII” in a thin marker that you might mistake it for an index bar from afar. Trying to display a contrast, this Orient Star watch features a skeletonized cut-out at the 9 o’clock position.

It beautifully displays the beating heart of the movement and the intricate inner mechanism running to provide accuracy and reliability. The watch is driven by the Orient in-house caliber F6R42 automatic movement with 50 hours of power reserve. 

Seiko Presage Enamel Tonneau Ref. SARX051

This Japanese watch brand has been known for making a range of alluring dress watches including the Presage Enamel Tonneau Ref. SARX051. Quite similar to the first watch but not with the rectangle case. 

Seiko Presage Enamel Tonneau Ref. SARX051
Seiko Presage Enamel Tonneau Ref. SARX051
MovementCaliber 6R15
Dimensions35.9mm in diameter, 46mm lug to lug, 12.5mm thick, 20mm lug width
Water resistance50m

The dial is simple with a white glossy surface, Roman numerals, blue-flamed leaf-shaped steel hands, and a date window at the three o’clock position. In short, this watch is a great concept and well-balanced for a quality everyday watch.

Blancpain Villeret Ultraplate

This particular watch stands out as the epitome of luxury within this selection, owing to its 18K rose-gold case that boasts an elegantly slim profile. 

Driving the timepiece is Blancpain’s self-winding Caliber 1151, which showcases impressive attributes like two series-linked barrels that store an exceptional 100-hour power reserve. Additionally, it features an engraved gold rotor adorned with an intricate honeycomb pattern.

Ball Watch Co. Trainmaster Roman White Ref. NM1058D-L4J-WH

Last but not least is the Ball Watch Co. Trainmaster Roman White Ref. NM1058D-L4J-WH. This one features the correct representation of 4 in the Roman numerals, yet the watch vividly exudes a classic elegance that speaks class.

Ball Watch Co. Trainmaster Roman White Ref. NM1058D-L4J-WH
Ball Watch Co. Trainmaster Roman White Ref. NM1058D-L4J-WH
MovementAutomatic caliber BALL RR1102
Dimensions41mm in diameter
Water resistance50m

The dial is clean, neat, and simple with an off-white color, Roman numerals, a day-date window, and watch hands. Measuring 41mm in diameter, the watch would wear big despite its classy characteristics. 

Final Thought

Watches with Roman numerals “IIII” in place of “IV” on watch dials encapsulate the rich history, aesthetic sensibilities, and psychological nuances that define the world of horology. From the ancient sundials to a form of creating an aesthetic balance, this seemingly minor design choice serves as a bridge between the past and the present, reminding us of the timeless beauty and craftsmanship that watches embody. 

Read also: Jumping Seconds Watches: A Brief into Iconic Complication

Gnomon Watches first opened her doors for business online in early 2002, founded by bona fide horology suitors who share a profound passion for watchmaking and fine craftsmanship.

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