Ancient symbols that still resonate are quite an excellent choice for tattoos, and there are few symbols as widely known around the world as the Sand Clock. Known more commonly as the ‘hourglass’, this deceptively simple metal framework housing two glass chambers and a flow of sand is a powerful representation of time.
The thing is, with older symbols, you’re really got a rich vein of symbolism that you can mine from them and personalize to make a truly unique tattoo. Let’s discuss the Sand Clock in a little more detail and you can see what we mean!
What is the History of Sand Clock Tattoos?
The origins of the Sand Clock are a bit fuzzy, but most believe that it was first created by a French Monk named Liutprand, based on the same concepts used by the Clepsydra – a water clock that was used as early as the 14th century B.C. by early Egyptians and believed to have come from ancient Babylonia!
Our first real proof that it’s use was commonplace, however, comes from in 14th century A.D. ship’s inventories that prove that the sand-filled timepieces were an everyday thing.
As far as when they became a subject for tattoos, it is hard to say, but we would hazard that since the clocks themselves were common in the 14th century, it is quite likely that some early tattoos incorporated their ‘deep but direct’ symbolism in their designs.
What Do Sand Clock Tattoos Symbolize?
Sand Clocks symbolize time, but have also long been symbols of death. Each grain flowing from the top of the sand clock is like a visual representation of the years flying by, while the sands that flow into the chamber below easily bring to mind the earth heaped upon a fresh grave when our time is over.
It’s a symbolism that is mutable, of course, and a lot will depend on its color and how it is depicted. For instance, a sand clock shape inside a simple circle would be powerful symbol of environmentalism, remind us that time affects us all – even the planet.
Consider also the colors of the sands. Green sands or even green dollars, falling to the bottom chamber of a sand clock could represent poor luck with money, but what if the money was both bills and change in a wild disarray, falling into neat and ordered stacks in the chamber below?
That’s just one example, but it gives you a little idea of the elasticity of a symbol, especially one such as the sand clock – we’ve basically been using them for such a large portion of history, that the symbolism has naturally become broader over time.
That’s where the ‘context’ provided by the symbols that you choose for your own tattoo design will come into play to let them know what YOUR Sand Clock symbolizes.
What Do Sand Clock Tattoos Mean?
The majority of Sand Clock tattoos are meant to acknowledge the mortality of the owner. This could be to express fatalism and a ‘devil may care’ attitude when it comes to death, or it could represent an understanding that one should make the most of what is obviously a limited time for all of us.
It’s not just time, but also motion. For instance, what do you think of when an hourglass is turned on its side? Well, ‘time out’, of course – all bets are off! So, by simply changing the position of the Sand Clock, instead of death, it has become immortality or simply a kind of stasis.
A Sand Clock tattoo also makes an excellent memorial. With the hourglass empty in its top chamber, all of it sands fallen and pooled in the one below, then it means that ‘this time’ has come to an end.
By adding a name, as if engraved on the metal frame of the glass, the design become a memorial and is recognized to be exactly that by anyone who looks upon it. That’s one of the perks of choosing a symbol so widely recognized – a Sand Clock tattoo’s meaning is generally quite clear.
It means the passing of time, the choices we make, and the eventuality that all of these things shall one day pass.
Where Do Sand Clock Tattoos Usually Go?
This will depend on the amount of detail that you are looking for, but most commonly Sand Clock tattoos are placed somewhere that they are going to be seen. This could be anywhere on the outermost side of the arm, or even on the ankle for those who prefer shorts or skirts over jeans.
Due to the seriousness of the subject, however, they are also quite popular as back tattoos, because in such a case you have enough space to work with to realize personalize the Sand Clock and to arrange it with other symbols in order to create something beautiful and uniquely yours.
That said, they can be placed anywhere, but in most cases the intent is to show a realization or even a fearlessness of one’s own mortality — so a Sand Clock tattoo is not one that is often ‘hidden’, unless more design space on the skin is required for what you have in mind.
Characteristics and Styles of Sand Clock Tattoos
Sand Clock tattoos come in any style that you can imagine. The symbol of the hourglass is an old one, after all, so ultimately it is going to be up to you. A New School Sand Clock tattoo, for instance, really packs a punch.
The cartoon style adds quite a bit of ‘in your face’ defiance to this classic symbol of death and amazing colors to boot! Most commonly, however, are depictions in simple greys, blacks, and whites, often done to a photorealistic degree.
This helps to take the already substantial gravity of this symbol and present it as a stark, naked reality. Minimalism is also quite popular and just by taking two triangles and putting one above and one below, with the center points touching, you have an unmistakable hourglass depicted simply and effectively.
You’ve got a chance to be as creative as you like with a Sand Clock, because it’s such a familiar symbol to our collective psyches that the meaning will almost always be crystal clear!
Some final words on Sand Clock Tattoos
When deciding what you want your tattoo to mean and to look like, sometimes it’s hard to find the right ‘words’, since interpretations of symbols can vary quite a bit from person to person. The Sand Clock is one of those rare symbols, however, upon which MOST of us agree.