Most watch dials featuring Roman Numerals appear to be in conflict with the standard notation to represent the number “4.” While common convention dictates the use of “IV” to represent the fourth digit, the majority of watch dials use the additive form, “IIII.”
A variety of theories postulate on the origin of this practice. One explanation claims that in the 14th Century, King Charles the V, directed that the number be painted as “IIII” because “IV” was considered to be bad luck due to the subtraction of one from his title, “V.” Interesting story, but unlikely rooted in truth.
Other theories conclude that the uncommon notation is used to achieve better symmetry, balancing the VIII on the opposing side and offering better legibility for radial figure placements.
Interestingly, the history of Roman Numerals provides important context into the practice, revealing that using the additive form is not as odd as we may think. Even the Ancient Romans used the additive form of the numeral above the fourth entrance gate at the iconic Colosseum.
The “IIII” adorning your watch dial may appear unusual when considering modern conventions, but there is historical context and intentional practicality behind the structure.