The Watchmaker's Four, Revisited

If you’ve seen models such as the FAC00009N0 or FAK00001Y0, you may have noticed that the Roman numeral for “4” is written out as IIII instead of the typical IV. Glance around a few watch forums and you’ll find this is actually common in the watch world wherever Roman numerals are used for the hour markers. This seemingly odd feature is called the “Watchmaker’s Four”.

As early as Ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Etruscan times, IIII was found to be present in various inscriptions rather than the IV we usually see today. IIII was surprisingly used long before IV and, later, used interchangeable with it. You can even see this on the numbered gates to the Colosseum, where IIII is used instead of IV. In the 1300’s, we can see the “Watchmaker’s Four” used on the Wells Cathedral clock.

There are many theories about the possible rise of the “Watchmaker’s Four”, ranging from King Louis XIV adamantly insisting this was the correct way to write 4 and forcing watchmakers to use the four bars instead, to the Latin name of the Roman god, Jupiter, being written as IVPPITER, which could potentially confuse readers if “IV” was also a number.

However, the most probable reason for the “Watchmaker’s Four” is that it lends a more symmetrical look to the dial, offering a counterbalance to the VIII on the opposite side of the dial since it takes up more space than IV. It is also more visible no matter which angle you look at the watch, so you can always view the time easily. In the end, this feature is about the aesthetically pleasing appearance more than anything else.


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