Hourglass/ Sandglass Clock: Everything there is to know

Hourglass clocks are probably the most recognizable ancient clocks out there. They have been featured in a lot of scenes of a lot of movies and TV shows. Often when the director wants to create a dramatic sense of emergency they are used. Hourglass clocks were one of the very ancient clocks that we as humans made in our evolution in getting more accurate time. Humanity took centuries to stumble upon viewing time the way we do nowadays. When humanity was still a bit young we used to mark time by the rising and setting of the sun. And a month by the waxing and waning of the moon. But as we grew we built better and more precise ways of telling time. And, one of our earlier tries to this was “The Hourglass clock”.

Table of Contents

What is the Hourglass / Sandglass Clock?

A decorative picture of Hourglass clock
Hourglass clock

It is a device that consists of two glass bulbs which are vertically connected with a narrow neck. The neck allows some amount of sand to pass through the upper glass to the lower glass. Usually, the upper and lower glasses are exactly alike, so the sandglass would measure the exact same time regardless of its orientation, up or down.

The very first sandglass clock is said to have been made by a french monk named Liutprand during the eighth century A.D. The sandglass clock is also known as the hourglass as it could only tell when an hour was up. They were used to set off blocks of time. And hence, they were all designed to measure one hour. Nowadays if you wish to buy an hourglass/sandglass for decor, there are some that cost even thousands of dollars due to their unique history.

Some History

As we said in the previous paragraph, there is no record of their being an hourglass in Europe before the Early Middle Ages. And the very first hourglass is said to have been made by a french monk named Liutprand during the eighth century A.D. But it wasn’t until the 14th century that Hourglass clocks were seen more commonly

Hourglass clock

They started off being popularly used in Marine Voyages at the start. One of the earliest recorded references to a marine glass was in 1345, noted by Thomas de Stetesham. He said “ The same Thomas accounts to have paid at Lescluse, in Flanders, for twelve glass hourglass, price of each 4½ gross’, in sterling 9s. Item, For four hourglass of the same sort, bought there, the price of each five gross’, making in sterling 3s. 4d.

Hourglasses were rather quite popular on ships as they were considered a very reliable way of measuring time while traveling at sea. It proved to be quite an improvement from the water clock ( the predecessor of the hourglass clock ), as the motion of the water didn’t affect the hourglass while sailing. As it used to in the water clock. Moreover, the fact that the hourglass used granular material instead of water made it even more accurate. The water clock often got weirded out as temperature changed and condensation played its part. Not only this but the seafarers also found that the hourglass clock was able to help in the determination of distances from a point, as well as longitudes.

Popularity on Land

Soon afterward, hourglass also started becoming popular on land as using clocks for indicating times of events like church services became more common, creating a “need to keep track of time”. The overall demand for Time-keeping devices increased as people became more aware of the importance of being able to quantify passing moments and scheduling their day.

These simple time-telling devices embedded themselves quite easily into the daily lives of the people. And soon started being used for helping in mundane household tasks like cooking also. As the hourglass was more frequently being used for household tasks, the makers of the newer models of the hourglass reduced it in its size. So that it becomes easier to move around and handle.

Their use in daily household work and their overall importance couldn’t last for a complete 2 centuries as mechanical clocks came running around, which were way more accurate and easy to use. However, this didn’t mean the end of Sandglass as they were still kept in use for people who regarded it as a timer and decor. As the clock technology kept on advancing and has reached the level of supernormal accuracy today, Hourglass clocks are still sometimes used as home decor, gifts, and as timers.

The oldest Hourglass that we know of rests in the British Museum, London now. But there were advancements made even in the realm of Hourglasses. This was popularly made by Jhon Harrison in the 18th Century when he came up with a marine chronometer that improved the stability of the hourglass many folds

Design of the Hourglass clock

Design | Free Vectors, Stock Photos & PSD

This clock uses two separate bulbs with a granular material inside and an opening connecting the two bulbs. This means that the granular material/ sand would fall down on the bulb down below due to the mere effect of gravity. However, there have been variations in hourglasses too that were made over time. For instance, though hourglass clocks have always been in ampoule shape, their bulbs were not always connected. The first hourglasses that were used had two separate bulbs with a cord wrapped at where they met. This cord was then coated in wax to hold the piece together and let sand flow in between. It was only after 1760 that these clocks were actually ever blown together to help keep the moisture out of the bulbs and regulate it with fair pressure

The Material used in the Hourglass

Not all of the earlier hourglasses used sand, contrary to the common belief. Rather the combinations that was often used was: powdered marble, tin/lead oxides, and pulverized burnt eggshell. There were many tests carried out to determine which of the materials used in the hourglass would prompt to the most accurate results and it was later concluded that the ratio of granule bead to the width of the bulb neck needed to be 1/12 or more but not greater than 1/2 the neck of the bulb for there to be a perfect flow

Modern uses of the Hourglass

The most major use of the sandglass now is as decor in the house and even as a fun timer sometimes. Some people also use them as egg timers for cooking eggs. The ones used for this usually have a very little amount of material inside as it takes only around 10 minutes for eggs to boil

Using Hourglass symbolically

The hourglass is interpreted to represent a link between the present and the future. It is often referred to metaphorically as something that depicts human existence fleeting by each and passing moment. Every moment represented by the grain of sand rippling down. Moreover, it is also used in many places just as a symbol of time

Does an Hourglass really take an hour?

Yes, the conventional hourglass clock does end its timer/cycle in an hour. This means that it would take exactly an hour for the sand from the upper side of the clock to get to the down-side of the clock completely. But if we look into the technical side of things, this depends on the materials being used and there are other hourglasses that finish their round in 10, 20, and 30 minutes and. But most of the clocks that were used in the prior centuries did without a doubt have a timer of an hour. Hence the name, “Hourglass”. And Sandglass clocks that use Sand, mercury or some other related stuff also do end in an hour or nearly an hour

What kind of sand is used in an Hourglass?

White Quartz sand is used in a sandglass clock usually. This is mostly found in abundance on white beaches. But there are more accurate innards of the hourglass that can be used like Marble dust, other rock dust, powder from cutting glass, and the rock flour

Does tapping an hourglass make it go faster?

Yes, tapping on an hourglass does make it go faster. So, you need to be careful to not disturb the sandglass clock violently whilst you’re trying to use it as a timer or it would become inaccurate,

Now let’s have a look into some hourglasses that you can use and buy for yourself nowadays.

Some Hourglasses that you can buy now!

If you are interested in buying hourglass, down below is a list of some of the best along with their good as well as bad reviews

OrgaNice Hourglass Sand Timer – 30 Minute & 5 Minute Timer Set

This is quite an elegant looking pair of sandglasses, the bigger one is a timer of 30 minutes and the smaller one is a timer for 5 minutes. This could quite joyfully help you divide your work or studying around with a rest schedule to keep you going. Besides recent research has shown that dividing your overall work up into parts greatly helps productivity levels and helps you keep consistent. Moreover, other than using it to become more productive, it might also prove a great antique for the decor of your house as it comes with a graceful elegant loo. ANd will surely lighten up the place where you put it.

A picture of   OrgaNice Hourglass Sand Timer - 30 Minute & 5 Minute Timer Set to better elaborate 'hourglass clock"
Hourglass clock

Last but not the least it is available on Amazon for $27.99 as of now

Some reviews
Audrey O says:

These are very nice hourglass sand timers, and the wooden bases are very nice as well (and the black felt is nice and not messed up like one of the other reviewers said in his/her review). I was sure to time both of them (twice) to make sure that the time is accurate and it is. Lately I’ve been having trouble focusing and the 30-minute hourglass helps to keep me focused and on track while at work.”

Jeris from The United States says: Gave 5 star

” The hourglass sand timer is beautifully made and works very nicely. It is helping me study a lot more efficiently. I accidentally cracked the sand timer as soon as I opened it from the styrofoam! I emailed OrgaNice customer service, and they immediately sent me a new one without any fee! They were very kind and helpful. I would definitely recommend purchasing any products from them because their products are great and their customer service is wonderful! Thank you!”

M.C. Little says from the United States says: Gave 5 star

” Real artisanal sand. Incredibly lifelike! The glass display which allows one to inspect each grain is a remarkable invention. Will recommend to fellow sand enthusiasts.”

Anonymous from the United States says: Gave 1 star

” I bought those for the stands. I thought they looked cool.
One problem is that they do not hold the hourglasses straight!
The back of the stands are made of a poorly glued material  “

Tim from the United States says:

” Bought this to use at work to mark how long I would be busy for (as part of an office campaign to give people time to focus on tasks without interruption). Someone knocked mine off of the little stand that is included (onto my desk, raised less than an inch off the desk) and it shattered and spilled sand everywhere – on the first day I bought it. Complete waste of 30$.”

Jennifer H. from the United Gave 5 star:

” Really enjoy these. I wanted hourglasses that would show like a display piece and not appear “insensitive”. I wanted to use during meetings and during conversations with my employees. Not to cut them off, but to help me to realize how I need not to drone on. Anyway, I am really pleased with the way they look. Impressive and solid. I have had a few of employees actually ask where I got them to purchase them themselves. The base really adds the professional/finished touch I was looking for.”

Bellaware Large Hourglass TimerOpens in a new tab.

Another beautiful looking graceful hourglass that sets a timer of 30 minutes. It has the following dimensions: Size: 10 x 3.7 x 3.7 in inches | 25 x 9.5 x 9.5 in centimeters and is made of fine wood. However, it does allow for a 10% deviation of time, so it is not the best choice as a timer. But surely suits quite well as decor due to its great look

A picture of Bellaware Large Hourglass Timer to better elaborate "Hourglass clock'
Hourglass clock

It is quite ideal for your office room if you like that type of decor. And is a very good choice as a housewarming/ birthday gift. Lastly, this hourglass clock is available on Amazon for $25.99

Some Reviews
Kevin L from the United States says: Gave 3 star

The sand works just fine and it is nice to watch it drop down slowly. There is something visceral to that. The rods holding it together seemed loose. When I tried to tighten them, they just spin and spin, never tightening.
Once I gave up trying to have it be tight (lowered my expectations), it is okay. Every time I turn it over I’m reminded that the metal poles move a bit. The good news is the end caps on the rods don’t come off. So if you can deal with a loosey-goosey feel turning it over rather than a firm connected one-piece feel to it, then the function of the sand timer is fine. I have not timed it
, I have digital clocks on my phone and computer.

I just like to note where the sand is, i use it like a pomadoro timer. It is big. About 10 inches or so tall. I use it on my desk at work. Anyway, the loose feel to the rods that hold it together is the only downside. The bamboo end pieces are fine. The metal has not loosened any more since I bought it. It just has this permanent looseness to it. But the key part is that it works. The fit and finish are not superb quality, but given the price, I’m okay with what I got. I like mine. Judge whether you can deal with this. If enough of a defect for you, don’t buy it. For me, I’m okay with the experience I bought. Just tell yourself, parroting Obi-Wan, “These are not the tightened bolts you’re looking for.”, and you’ll be good to go. “

Mitch from the United States says: Gave 5 Star

” This thing times out at about 28 minutes, which is what I wanted. It’s encased with protective rods and wood at the top/bottom so it would be difficult to break in my opinion. Researched numerous other hourglasses but they all seemed to fragile. Glad i picked this one cuz it does not seem like it will break even if i were to knock it over due to the protective cage/wood.”

Travis L. from the United States says: Gave 4 Star

” Not built as structurally sound as I would prefer but well worth the money. It’s a perfect timer to discipline my son and make him watch the sand fall as he sits in time-out on our couch. It serves its purpose well.”

Nick from the United States says: Gave 5 star

” I purchased both White and Black Hourglass sand timers. They look amazing! However, the black sand timer stopped working after a few minutes, while the white sand timer worked perfectly. After testing the time for accuracy, it came out to be exactly 30 minutes with just 5 extra seconds. Even though only one of my sand timers worked, I would still recommend this product, because it may be different for others. Also to note it is slightly wobbly on my desk.”

Abigail from the United States says: Gave 5 Star

Great quality, it didn’t feel cheaply made. I got it as a Christmas gift for my sister and she loves it.

KSMA Brass-Tone 30 Minutes Rotating Sand HourglassOpens in a new tab.

A rather unique looking clock even in the realm of hourglass. Its a rotating hourglass clock. You can rotate the clock at whatever angle you like and even play with it when bored. It comes with the following dimensions: 10×8.5 inch. The glass is completely sealed so that it doesn’t leak any sound whilst revolving around.

A picture of KSMA Brass-Tone 30 Minutes Rotating Sand Hourglass to better elaborate " Hourglass clock"
Hourglass clock

This clock comes with a timer of 30 minutes. It also works great for all celebrating occasions. And is available on Amazon for $39.99 on Amazon as of now.

Some Reviews:
Secre from the United States says: Gave 5 Star

” I’m quite impressed with the look and feel of this piece, I got it mostly as a ‘scare-tactic’ for our D&D sessions, but I have to say this is a really beautiful piece for the most part and I really do love it. It’s large, feels high quality, and is quite accurate. The one I received is only about 1-2 minutes off (31-32 minutes) compared to a digital timer, and given it’s many axis which probably cause variance depending on how level the surface it’s sitting on is, I think that’s pretty darn good.

My only complaint is a small one, but it would be nice to see it fixed or maybe I just got a one off – There are some small rubber grommets/gaskets on the ‘Y’ axis of the hourglass, the hourglass I received had 1 on the bottom, and 2 on the top and neither of the top ones were placed very well. I had to kind of pry one off, and re-attach one in the correct location to get it all to sit nicely again. This is a very tiny complaint and easily missed by even a good Quality Control checker, I’d still give this a 5/5 or 9.5/10, highly recommended. I think it looks stellar in my office.”

Soluman from the United States says: Gave 4 star

“First off, I should have read the specs more carefully because this hourglass is enormous. I imagined it being about 6″ tall, but it’s the size of a paper towel roll! The brass color is lovely and I like being able to flip the hourglass without having to pick it up. It doesn’t empty to clear glass, but leaves some granules in the top (with a finger tap they fall down though).My only complaint is that it’s not a 60-minute timer. I used a stopwatch app and mine ran through in 43 min 15 sec. I’d hoped to use this as a classier version of the ” pomadoro method,” and I still can, but closer to 60 minutes would’ve been preferred. I should mention that it looks really classy on my desk or bookshelf”

Jerico from the United States says: Gave 4 star

” Well-made glass and metal frame and packaged nicely. The “sand” is a very dark, blackish rose color. As an artist, my opinion is the hue of the sand does not compliment the antique gold finish of the metal frame surrounding the glass. Most of the web photos of this hourglass showed white or grayish-white sand in it, so that is what I was expecting. After receiving my order and being surprised at the sand color, I double-checked the photograph displayed online. Then I noticed there was, in fact, 1-hour glass shown with the same dark blackish sand that I had received. Shame on me for not seeing that before. My professional opinion is the cold sand color should coordinate better with the warm metal color.

I purchased this as a gift for someone who probably won’t notice the color argument going on, so I am not sending it back; everything else about it is great. It is a 60-minute hourglass and was accurate to within 1 minute. The sand did not stick to the sides of the glass as reviews of other brands noted. The sand slides smoothly and cleanly down the inside glass. The ghoulish color of the sand is my only negative point. “

Modern Decorative 12-Inch Brass-Tone Metal Rotating Hourglass Sand TimerOpens in a new tab.

Another rotatable hourglass clock that also has quite an elegant look to lighten up any place you put it. It has the following dimensions: 12.4 H X 6.3 W X 5.9 D (in inches). But it is not recommended as an accurate timer but rather just as a decor

A picture of Modern Decorative 12-Inch Brass-Tone Metal Rotating Hourglass Sand Timer

Also is great as a gift, comes in a brass color. And is available on Amazon for $29.99 as of now.

Some Reviews
Elizabeth from the United States says: Gave 5 star

” Love it! Lasts a full hour and very sleek design with the rotation. I have a modern Victorian interior design so this fits perfectly. The right amount of old and new.”

Janet from the United States says: Gave 1 star

“Broke after three months. I called the company and left a message to get new screws since no hardware stores screws would fit and I got no response. “

Larry from the United States says: Gave 5 star

” This was way beyond my expectations. Very impressed. Not a cheap hourglass. Very high-quality item. Very Satisfied.”

Jennifer from the United States says:

“Beautiful functional piece! It’s a well-made and solid hourglass. It is classy looking… It will give any home a touch of visual brilliance!

Answering some questions about this hourglass clock

Question: Does this clock flip by itself? Ans: No

Question: what is the timer of this clock Ans: 1 hour

SuLiao Hourglass Timer Sand Clock 

Its accuracy is what separates it from the other Hourglasses clocks. It sets a timer of 30 minutes. This hourglass clock has a quite thick glass and durable design

A picture of SuLiao Hourglass Timer Sand Clock to better elaborate "Hourglass clock"
Hourglass clock

Another thing about this clock is that it comes with professional packaging materials and thickened protective layers to make sure that the transit will not be blocked. Lastly, this durable hourglass clock is available on Amazon for $28.99 as of now.

Some Reviews
El from the United States says: Gave 5 star

” High quality. Solid feel. Sand is smooth, time is accurate. Recommended!”

Edward Fann from the United Staes says: Gave 5 star

” This hourglass timer is really great! It’s very pretty and well made. I would highly recommend this product.”

Stephanie from the United States says: Gave 5 star

” Very pretty and sturdy item. The package was significantly damaged, but the product was well packaged and intact. It is quite a bit darker in color than the photo, but still very pretty. I timed it with a stopwatch and it was 30 seconds fast, but I only plan to use it as a decorative piece. Some of the sand sticks to the top part after all the sand has flowed into the bottom, but a slight tap to the glass, and it falls through the hole into the bottom.”

Leo from the United States says: Gave 5 star

” The quality of the item is good, its useful.”

Ken from the United States: Gave 1 star

” More like a 55-minute glass. I can’t believe this product isn’t tested before selling! A waste of money. Nowhere near an Hourglass. “

This was an elaborate article about hourglass clocks that covered everything from around their origin to a list that you can buy as of now. Hopefully, you found it helpful. If you have any relevant questions, feel free to use the comment section below. Lastly, If you are interested in knowing why do pendulum clocks stop during earthquakesOpens in a new tab.. We wrote an article on that, so check it out. And stay tuned for more interesting articles about clocks

AK Iqbal

A University of London’ student with a passion for writing. Clocks have always intrigued me and the importance that they have in our lives is way beyond phenomenal. So, on this site, I write everything about clocks, everything from answering any clock-related queries that you might have along with recommending some of my favorite clocks accordingly. Moreover, I will also be conducting some researches on clock related topics and sharing the things that I learn. So stay tuned to ohmyclock for all the fun clocks related content

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