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Trend Progression of Arabic Numerals on American Watch Dials

Arabic Dial on Elgin Interchangeable (Convertible) Movement
Pictured: Early Arabic Dial on Elgin Interchangeable Movement, c.1885.

Until the 1880s, watch dials manufactured in the United States almost exclusively featured Roman Numeral hourly indicators. Not only was this the accepted standard at the time, but it was also very practical.

Painting dials by hand was often one of the most time consuming procedures in the production process. Painting straight lines constructing the familiar Roman Numerals was much quicker than the time required to paint elegant and concise curves required by Arabic Numerals. 

When transfer and photographic techniques were implemented for marking dials in the mid-1880s, new opportunities for dial designs became available. As a result, companies quickly introduced a variety of dial options, including modern dials featuring Arabic Numerals.

One of the first manifestations of this new trend was introduced as a standard option by the Elgin National Watch Company on their innovative “interchangeable” models. These Arabic dials feature elongated numerals at the hour indicators, exuding the finesse expected for a modern timepiece during the 1880s. 

Despite the new design offerings, Roman Numeral dials continued to dominate customer preference until after 1900.

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