65 Popular Hourglass Tattoo Designs – The Depiction of Life and Death

The hourglass was invented about 150 BC in Alexandria and was used as a means to measure time before the timepiece was invented in the sixth century. It was also used for nautical navigation when sailors needed to measure the minutes and help keep them from losing touch with time while at sea. While technology has outdated the hourglass you can still find them used to track the time while playing board games and also depicted in major computers to signify that things are loading.

Hourglass tattoos have been growing in popularity over time for the fact that it can easily mixed with other symbols while still retaining some its own individual meaning.



The popularity of the hourglass tattoo started in Egypt and then spread north, it was a display of a depiction of time. It was something that grew popular among philosopher and artists because of it’s most obvious figurative meaning. Sailors used the hourglass to record the passage of time while at sea but used the symbol as a reminder. Pirates adopted it for their flags for similar reasons as sailors, because often pirates were defeated sailors. It began to appear on gravestones and coffins, marking the passing of a life.

Why the macabre attachment? The hourglass began to represent both the past and the present. The sand flows through an hourglass no matter what goes on around it, so the hourglass began to be a representation of life and death.

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The hourglass tattoo, as with any tattoo, has meanings that are different from person to person. It changes with the person wearing it, though it still steams from the origins of the symbol itself. We have already mentioned how an hourglass is a depiction of life and death, past and present with the movement of the sands and the different glass bulbs.

Because the hourglass is a versatile piece makes it so that can mean many things or it can adapt to what you need it to say. The sands can be different colors, it can be paired with different things, and often it can have banners to hold a quote. Often we see an hourglasses with wings, giving a nod to the saying that time flies. Positioning can also add to the meaning, take a winged hourglass can also say something about love being on borrowed time.

It can say time is precious and the always flowing, an hourglass tattoo can be a reminder of that. It can represent both life and death and the beginning and end, someone may choose to use it to represent a new beginning in their life. Or like all things the saying this too shall pass’ when someone is working their way through a rough patch in life.

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Because of the versatility of the hourglass symbol, it can be used in any sort of design. We have already mentioned wings and how time flies. And we have already pointed out that the color of the sands can be different from each person wearing the tattoo, the color offering different meanings on their own. Often, people may opt to add different items in the sand and glass. Flowers to make it feminine and beautiful or it can also put emphasis on how time can take beauty because flowers wilt and die like people.

Using skulls can give a nod to how our time will end in death.

Time is money, pairing the hourglass with dollar bills or coins is an excellent way to express that. What you add to the design can easily adapt the meaning.

Or you can keep it simple and it can be tragic with the meaning and often used to commemorate the passing of a friend or family member. A broken hourglass, for example, with its sand leaking out can mean that as well or it can also be a nod to the fact that time is out of our hands and it’s just a matter of what we do with it. Often being used as a reminder to not take time for granted.

For nautical themes, you might opt for the traditional style of having the artist depict the tattoo with bold outlines and limit the color pallet. In fact, Sailor Jerry has many examples done in the traditional style with banners to add a quote or saying.

Banners aren’t regulated to just the traditional style.They can be adapted to any fashion you need to put across the message you are trying to convey. Whether you put the name of a loved one in it or a quote to take to heart, a manner can be used in any style.

Colors can add a lot of depth and drama to a piece, as can black and white tones. Coloring an hourglass in bright dramatic colors can keep the meaning of the piece from being too dark. It can be a reminder without the tragic overtones that measured time can have.

While putting the hourglass in black and white tones still give it that depth, but it can make it darker and the meaning more somber. With the multiple styles available it can change just how a tattoo can look and be used for any piece.

A tattoo can say whatever you want it to say, you can adapt it so it has the meaning you want it to have. With the hourglass the meanings can be more sobering and thoughtful, though all tattoos should be considered long and hard before you go under the needle.

It can be a great piece to use to mark a life changing event from a death to a birth or just as a reminder the time continues to flow no matter how we take it for granted. Time is static and flies faster than you realize, any time is a good time to get another tattoo and an hourglass may make a statement to remind you just how fast time is going by.


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