About 90% of all watch manufacturers use the spelling IIII instead of the correct IV on models with Roman numerals on the dial. Why this is so, where this tradition comes from and why this is still done today we would like to explain to you in this blog post.
The four theories
There are different theories how it came to the spelling IIII. The most important are the following:
1. Jupiter theory
At the time of Roman antiquity, the characters IV could also be read as JU. JU in turn was the abbreviation for the Roman deity Jupiter. If this abbreviation had been put on a dial together with ordinary numbers, it would have been considered blasphemy.
2. The preference of the Sun King
According to this theory, the personal preferences of the Sun King LOUIS XIV are responsible for the spelling IIII. He preferred the IIII and induced the watchmakers in his area of influence to use this notation.
3. Symmetry and optical balance
If you look at a dial, directly opposite the four is the eight. This consists of four single digits, namely VIII. With the actually correct notation IV, an optical imbalance is created by the different number of digits. Therefore, IIII was chosen for aesthetic reasons.
4. Economic aspects
This theory is about the molds that the goldsmiths used to make the numerals. With a mold consisting of only four numerals (X, V, I, I), a complete set of indices could be cast with four passes. With the IV notation, this would not have been possible and the production would have been more complicated and expensive.
Which of these theories was actually the decisive one is still being debated. Whether this question can be answered with certainty at some point is uncertain. What can be said with certainty, however, is that this old tradition of the IIII has survived in the watch industry to this day.