Last updated: August 19, 2021

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The hourglass is an instrument that was invented in 8th century France by a monk who introduced it as an essential element in masses. Hourglasses have been famous ever since as an ideal device for measuring relatively short periods of time.

Although no longer used for the same purposes as in the past, such as navigation, these clocks still have many uses as they are a creative and decorative way of measuring the passage of time. Today we discuss the benefits of these clocks and show you what types you can find on the market.




Summary

  • Hourglasses work by gravity, and consist of two spaces separated by a narrow channel through which a certain substance, usually fine sand, passes. Today, these clocks have many uses, such as in board games, teaching, offices, or any activity that requires the measurement of time.
  • Although hourglasses have a myriad of uses and applications, there are different types that will be better for certain activities. We explain the difference between solid and liquid hourglasses.
  • If you are looking to buy an hourglass, we recommend that you follow our buying criteria guide, as there are a few factors to consider before purchasing your watch. Some of these factors are use, material, volume, and design.

The Best Hourglasses: Our Picks

Buying guide: what you need to know about an hourglass

Hourglasses have many uses, especially because their main function is to measure time. Today they are used for a wide variety of purposes, which we present below based on the questions most frequently asked by the public.

Hourglasses are commonly used for educational purposes (Photo: Oksana Kuzmina / 123rf.com)

How does an hourglass work?

Although it seems quite simple, the operation of an hourglass is not straightforward. Hourglasses work by means of two receptacles separated by a narrow channel, through which a material, solid or liquid, passes in an exact measure of time. For these clocks to work, they need to be of a high quality.

There are several advantages of choosing an hourglass over other types of clocks, such as being quite visible, elegant, decorative and, in some cases, educational. However, many are not as accurate, can wear out over time, and are only useful by sight (no alarms).

Advantages
  • Highly visible
  • Elegant
  • Decorative
  • Educational
  • Educational
Disadvantages
  • Less accurate if of poor quality
  • Wear out over time
  • Only useful by sight, no alarm

Solid or liquid hourglasses - what should you pay attention to?

Although they are called "sand clocks", often these instruments do not contain sand but other materials that are used to measure the passage of time. Here are some characteristics of these two types of hourglasses.

Hourglass with solid content: These are the most common, they do not need a special exterior material as they are quite simple. They last longer than the liquid ones if we use them frequently. If we get a quality one, they are quite accurate and their precision does not diminish over time.

Hourglass with liquid content: They work with two types of liquid that are mixed in the form of bubbles. They are made of thick, quality material, as this is necessary for the liquid to hold. They last less than solids if used frequently and are less accurate as liquids are less controllable.

Hourglass with solid content Hourglass with liquid content
Outer material They work with any material Thick, quality materials
Durability More durable than liquids, can be used frequently Not as durable if used frequently
Accuracy Very accurate, and accuracy does not decrease over time Accurate, but accuracy decreases over time

Buying criteria: factors that allow you to compare and rate different models of hourglasses

Finally, in this section we tell you some of the things you have to take into account if you are thinking of buying an hourglass, as there are several types that will have different characteristics depending mainly on the use you are going to make of it.

  • Usage
  • Material
  • Volume
  • Design

Use

The most important thing about an hourglass is how you use it

One of the most important aspects that will determine what type of hourglass you should buy is what you intend to use it for. There are many activities in which an hourglass is quite useful, in this section we present four main ones: Decorative, educational, professional, and kitchen.

Decorative: These clocks are usually made of elegant and eye-catching materials, such as wood or brass. They are relatively large compared to educational clocks, as they are made to decorate a space. In these cases, the volume or accuracy of the clock is not so important.

Educational: These clocks are generally small, with brightly coloured designs, manageable shapes for children, and made of resistant materials, such as plastic. They can be useful for teachers or parents, to measure the time of activities that we put the children to do.

Professional: These clocks can be used, for example, to measure the time of a work appointment. They can be placed in a place where both the client and the professional can see the clock, so that they have an idea of the time. They are also quite decorative, with sober designs and quality materials.

Kitchen: In these clocks, the most important thing is the precision of the time, as well as a design that is eye-catching from a distance so that we can keep an eye on our cooking process. If you want an hourglass for cooking, we recommend buying a package that includes clocks that measure different amounts of time.

Hourglasses are an excellent tool to teach children how much time to dedicate to their daily activities (Photo : Alexas_fotos/ pixabay.com)

Material

Closely related to the use, the material of our watch is important because it will give it certain characteristics that will be a strong influence on its functioning, its design, and the types of activity it can be used for.

Plastic: We recommend this material for activities that require resistance, as in the case of hourglasses intended for education that will be handled by children. They can also be used in the kitchen, as they are resistant to continuous use.

Wood: Hourglasses made of wood or other more decorative materials on their bases are generally made with a glass body. This means that they cannot be used in contexts where they can break. We recommend these clocks for offices or as decoration.

Brass: This material on the base of the clock gives it a very classic design. As well as clocks with a wooden base, our brass clock will most likely be made of glass or crystal, so they are delicate. These clocks are more decorative.

Glass: Finally, there are hourglasses that are only made of glass, without a base. These are quite delicate, even if the glass is thick. They can be easily scratched, so we do not recommend them if you plan to use them frequently.

Did you know that, because of their precision, hourglasses were used to calculate distances in navigation?

Volume

By volume, we mean the size of the watch's compartments in relation to the narrowness of its channel. We divide our categories by time, as this is what varies depending on the volume of our hourglass.

Less than 15 minutes: Hourglasses with low volume have a capacity of 15 minutes or less. These are used for short activities, such as children's education. They can be found in board games, and are usually made of plastic.

15 to 40 minutes: These clocks are more versatile in their uses, including cooking, professional appointments, long educational activities, or exercise. The clocks will be slightly larger, and we should make sure they are made of the right material for our type of activity.

More than one hour: These clocks are mainly made for cooking, specifically baking, as they have a fairly long time period. They will be the largest clocks or with a very narrow channel, so we must make sure that the material is resistant, it will be a clock that we are likely to use constantly.

Design

A final buying criterion, but one of the most important in an hourglass, is the design. This design is linked to the use we are going to give it, but also to the type of space where we plan to place it. We divide the designs into three main categories: children's, classic and modern.

Kids: Children's hourglasses, whether for play or educational purposes, are quite eye-catching, colourful, and fun. The most important element to take into account is that these clocks should indicate with a visible number the time they represent, so that children know how much time they dedicate to their activities.

Classic: Classic clocks are usually made of brass or pure glass. These designs are quite nice for offices, as they generate a sense of sophistication. We can also place them in places in our home where we want to create this atmosphere, such as a living room or a study.

Modern: Modern clocks can be made of wood, glass or other materials. Their main characteristic is that they are decorative, but they can be of different sizes and have different functions in different areas of the home or workplace. For example, they can be used in the bedroom, office or living room.

(Featured image photo: Mike / Pexels.com)

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