When looking for a symbol that has a great deal of meaning to be tattooed on the body, there are a lot of directions you can head. Animals and flowers are all packed full of symbolism and make for great tattoos. However, if you are looking for something with a mysterious meaning but still sends a message, the hourglass tattoo makes for a great choice.
The hourglass might look like a simple enough object, but there are plenty of great tattoo designs to choose from and a lot of hourglass tattoo meanings. On this page we will go over the history of the hourglass itself and some of the most popular meanings that people attach to their tattoos. As you’ll find out, there is often a lot more than meets the eye when looking at an hourglass tattoo.
What is an Hourglass?
The hourglass is a timepiece that has largely been made obsolete with the 16th century invention of the spring-driven mechanical clock. Because of this, the hourglass is a relic of ancient or the pre-modern period that relied on more natural means of time telling. Some people simply love the look of the hourglass and the fact that it is a relic.
Originally, before there were clocks that worked mechanically, people used simple measurement devices or the sun’s movement to keep time. One of the best known tools that people used to use to keep time was the sundial. People still buy sundials for decoration, but these have long been superseded and for obvious reasons. Sundials can’t be used at night, indoors or on overcast days.
There were also other devices that were used to measure times. The candle clock was a popular way to keep time long ago. The candle clock measures time by marking lines around the candle itself which are usually marks that represent the hour. You could watch the candle and see how much burned in an hour. You had candles marked in different intervals. There was an eight hour candle that showed when four hours had passed when it had dropped down four marks. The obvious problem with the candle clock is a draft. The Chinese added an interesting function to the candle by adding threads with metal balls attached so when an hour passed, the metal would hit the surface and you could hear as the time passed.
From oil clocks to water clocks, new inventions kept arising until the modern clock. However, the hourglass is the most popular timepiece to have tattooed outside of the modern clocks.
Hourglass Tattoo Meaning
A type of hourglass, the Marine Sandglass is a common time piece used for hundreds of years by sailors. In this way, the image of the hourglass is a measurement of one’s time spent at sea. Sailors aren’t the only ones that get the hourglass tattoo these days, though. Even people who just love the sea will get their hourglass tattoo to feel closer to both the sea and those who share their love of going out on the open waters.
More generally, the hourglass is a symbol of patience as well as mortality. These two hourglass tattoo meanings can be used together, or people can choose to use just one of them. Someone who is the type of person who doesn’t get anxious under pressure might find the hourglass tattoo to be perfect for them. Likewise, someone who is always well aware that they have a limited time on this planet might get the hourglass tattoo to serve as a reminder to live each day to its fullest.
Because the hourglass is divided into two realms, the top half full of sand represents the present while the empty bottom half signifies the future. In this way, the hourglass tattoo could be seen as having thousands of meanings all in one image. You could look at it to remember those you have lost, or you can use it as a source of motivation to go after your dreams.
Hourglass Tattoo Variations
There are many ways we have seen the hourglass tattooed. The great thing about tattoos is just having some slight changes in the image can completely change the meaning of the tattoo. Use your ideas or work with your tattoo artist on something fresh and new. Whatever you decide should have meaning to you. Below are a few examples of changing up the hourglass tattoo.
Half and Half Hourglass Tattoo
A half full/half empty hourglass can represent something entirely different than an hourglass that has finished pouring its sand. When someone has a half-full hourglass tattoo, they might be the type of person who remains calm regardless of the situation. They don’t freak out when the times get tough, and they are cautious about being too overjoyed when something good happens to them.
You might also take this tattoo as a symbol of yin and yang. Without one, the other wouldn’t be complete. So, while there is half of the sand in the hourglass in one part of the object, the other is missing that sand. This might symbolize the balance in your life.
Empty Hourglass Tattoo
The image of an hourglass void of sand will signify something different altogether, most likely a disregard for the traditional passage or conception of time. This is an interesting hourglass tattoo meaning since it pretty much means that the owner thinks they live on their own wavelength. The rules don’t pertain to them and they don’t let time stand in the way. You can be sure that someone who owns an hourglass tattoo with no sand in it is an interesting person to say the least.
Another way to look at this tattoo is that person with it doesn’t believe in fate. When you see the sand leaving one part of the hourglass to the other, it tells us we can’t control it. Time is passing, and your fate is up to time. This tattoo is a protest to the idea that we aren’t in control of our life.
Broken Hourglass Tattoo
Likewise, a broken hourglass might symbolize a similar message or relay a death or personal tragedy. When the hourglass runs out of sand, the idea of mortality is brought into question. The absence of flowing sand indicates the end of a period of time and can be applied to the life of oneself or a loved one. Anyone who has lost a close friend or family member knows the many feelings that come with that. The broken hourglass tattoo is an excellent image to use to show that you hate the fact that you can’t get that time back.
Hourglass with Skull and Clock
The hourglass tattoo with a skull and clock worked into the piece represents the idea of fleeting life. The skull is generally a sign of death or the end of life. When coupled with the hourglass and clock, it is a message that we have a finite amount of time on this planet. In most cases this tattoo is a reminder to get out and experience life at its fullest. Don’t let time pass you by because the clock is always moving, and the sand is falling. Everyday is a day closer to our last day in this life so we must take advantage of our time.
The hourglass is a reminder of the limited time that is allotted to each individual and therefore encourages a ‘carpe diem’ perspective on life. There are dozens of great motivational tattoos that you can choose from, but the hourglass tattoo really brings the “make the most of your life” meaning hit home a bit harder than some of the others. You can always look at it and be reminded that you need to make the most of every day and not get too sidetracked.
Regardless of how the hourglass is portrayed or how the sand, or lack of sand, appears, it is a constant symbol of the flow of time. It can be either a positive or negative image, both or neither, depending on the significance of the intended message. This is great news for people who want to find a tattoo design that can incorporate a bunch of positive and negative meanings all in one image. Obviously, you can choose to only use one of those meanings full-time, but chances are it will affect you differently depending on when you look at it.