History of Hourglass

Gregory Bennati on
History of Hourglass

Here at Sand Theory, we’re all about treasuring life’s timeless moments. That’s why we have chosen an hourglass as our logo.

The hourglass has a fascinating history that only deepens its meaning for our brand. These little glass contraptions have been used to measure the passage of time by everyone from 14th-century sailors to 17th-century preachers with each grain of sand representing a precious moment in someone’s life.

Here’s a quick historical tour of the hourglass which has been making the good times fly by for centuries.

Some historians say the hourglass dates back to ancient Rome.

Based on the fact that the Romans had a low-key love affair with glass, some historians believe they must have dreamt up the hourglass. Other historians point to engravings that appear to depict hourglasses as further proof.

Other evidence gives an 8th-century French monk all the credit

More definitive proof dates back to an eighth-century French monk at Chartres, who takes credit for inventing the hourglass. Unfortunately, none of his buddies are around anymore to say whether he’s lying or not. Either way, his revival of the art of glass blowing would lead to the popularization of the time-telling device. And that, of course, led to the creation of a giant sandglass for a super important king, Charlemagne, which was so freaking big it only needed to be turned every 12 hours.

By the 14th century, the hourglass became super popular on land...

Whichever story you believe, the evidence tells us that this sandy time-teller was super-popular by the early 14th-century, particularly common in Italy and other parts of Western Europe. Many households had them for kitchen use, while doctors carried them around for timing pulses. (A practice that would strangely continue until the 19th-century.)

...And at sea.

The hourglass or “sand glass” start popping up in 14th-century ship logs. They were particularly valuable amongst ship workers because they were the most accurate way of telling time and measuring distance while out at sea. (The only other option was the water clock which was rendered useless as a  sea-sick puppy by the motion of the ship). Even Christopher Columbus used a half-hour hourglass to track the time on his voyage to America. Crews would also use the hourglass to track hours of work. When a sneaky ship boy turned the hourglass before time had run out it was called “swallowing sand.”

By the 16th century, the hourglass was commonly used by teachers, preachers, and everyone in-between.

By this point, the hourglass had been incorporated into classrooms, where teachers used it to time lectures, while stonemasons and other craftsmen used it to track their work hours. Preachers also used them to keep time during their sermons. They could often be seen walking to church holding their sand-glass while the more pretentious preachers hired special servants to walk behind them carrying their sandglass. The practice continued into the United States and was popular in New England. Learned men would also carry hourglasses around like super-awkward watches.

After the 16th century, the hourglass fell out of practice, except amongst seamen.

Once the pocket watch caught on, the hourglass started to fall out of favor which honestly makes sense. However, the hourglass still had an important function when it came to measuring distances and speed at sea due to its precise measurement of short units of time.

Today, they’re still used in some institutions, kitchens and board games.

The hourglass is no longer our primary method of keeping time, but it still proves useful in various aspects of society. Both houses of the Australian Parliament use hourglasses for timing different procedures while the three-minute hourglass has been dubbed the “egg timer,” and they are still being used in many kitchens. And of course, many board games use hourglasses because they’re just more fun than clocks.

That sums up our brief historical tour of the world’s coolest time-teller. Knowing its history, we love the hourglass even more because it represents the precariousness of time. The hourglass captures that feeling when you’re on vacation, sitting on the beach and looking up at the clouds, wishing you could just hold onto that moment forever. That feeling is why we created the Sand Theory. Our men’s bracelets and women’s beaded bracelets each contain a pinch of sand from some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It’s our way of bottling the best moments of your life, so you can carry them with you, wherever you may roam.

You’ll notice that our logo turns the hourglass to the side. That’s so it can simultaneously remind us of the infinity symbol and represent the way your greatest adventures can live on for eternity through Sand Theory. We’ve designed beach accessories -- from bead bracelets to a dad hat emblazoned with the hourglass logo to spread the message of timelessness. We hope you love them as much as we do! Happy adventuring.