The 10 Best Hourglasses
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in June of 2016. For anyone who appreciates the simplicity of bygone eras, these hourglasses will free you from checking your watch or smartphone constantly, as they act as timers for everything from boiling an egg to doing an exercise routine. Coming in a wide range of designs and filled with different colors of sand and other materials, many of our selections also make great decorations. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
April 16, 2020:
During this round of updates, while the Lily’s Home 30-Minute and Gravity Glass Time Management System were removed due to availability issues, we also decided eliminate the SZAT Crystal Timer, in an effort to purge our rankings of any low-end, budget models. Our new additions this time around are the B Bellaware Wood 8541987067 – a one-hour model with a fiberboard frame and six sand-color options, the ThorInstruments Nautical KG2371 – which is seven inches tall and equipped with a compass on one end, and the KSMA Brass-Tone – a fun desktop option with a frame that rotates in two directions.
A few things to look for in this category:
Style: While there is a strong argument for using hourglasses as one means to help eschew modern technology, and better connect with the present moment during normal everyday tasks, for the most part – in a world where the lion’s share of the population walks around with app-packed smartphones in their pockets – hourglasses are thought to be more decorative, and less practical. With that in mind, pick a model that closely matches your personal style, or the personal style of your intended gift recipient.
While the PTC Black Dual Dragon may appeal to fans of sword-and-sorcery fantasy worlds, the ThorInstruments Nautical KG2371 might be a better choice for boat enthusiasts. The Design Toscano Handmaidens of The Pharaoh is a nice choice for users who’re keen on Egyptology, and those fascinated by science are sure to take to the way the ferrous sand in the Kikkerland Magnetic forms miniature stalagmites as it piles.
Duration: While none of the options we ranked claim to be extremely precise, their approximate duration varies considerably. While quicker models like the Kikkerland Magnetic have only a one-minute duration, other models like the Lily’s Home 60-Minute will run for a full hour. The OrgaNice Set comes with a five- and 30-minute timer, and the Mosskic Colors comes with a pack of six assorted durations, which allows you quite a bit of timing flexibility.
Hourglasses tend to be sealed, so there’s no way to adjust a given model's duration by adding or removing sand. However, certain options like the ThorInstruments Nautical KG2371 are simple enough to open up, leaving users free to adjust the amount, or even change the color, of the sand inside it.
Durability: As we’ve already mentioned, most hourglasses are primarily used as a decorative feature in a room. Since these options aren’t really regarded as pragmatic timepieces, they tend to just sit there without being handled much, and exist happily in spite of their fragility. However, if you’re considering investing in an hourglass as a gift for a young person, to help teach a child how time works, you might want to consider an option with a durable construction, where broken glass is an unlikely hazard. Although the Siveit Modern is made of glass, it has PVC end caps and an acrylic shell that help reduce the likelihood of breakage, and the Mosskic Colors is made of resilient borosilicate glass that’s much less prone to shattering than many of the decorative models we’ve included.
Hodinkee This company's collaboration with Apple designer Marc Newson resulted in this 10-minute timer, expertly handcrafted and precisely filled with 1,249,996 nanoballs – which are essentially copper-coated, stainless-steel ball bearings. It's a beautiful limited-edition piece, and mesmerizing to watch, but its price tag is prohibitive to most. hodinkee.com
The Benefits Of Owning An Hourglass
You probably already know this to some extent, even unconsciously.
At first glance, it may seem like an hourglass is not much more than a decoration. We have so many nuanced ways to tell time these days — from the timers on our stoves to the supercomputers in our pockets — that there doesn’t seem to be much need for an ancient device like an hourglass. When deployed properly, however, these simple timers can actually be good for you.
The problem that arises in too many work environments is a kind of non-stop effort that actually causes productivity and worker health to decline. If you work at a desk, it’s particularly important that you don’t spend your whole workday seated, as this can lead to everything from increased risk of heart disease and blood clots to obesity and even depression.
You probably already know this to some extent, even unconsciously. There’s a point or two in your workday where you probably can’t stand sitting at your terminal any longer, and you have to get up to get some coffee, bother a coworker, or just tactfully avoid your boss for a little while. You may not realize it, but this is actually your body’s way of trying to keep you healthy and sane.
A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that taking short, five-minute walks every hour or so significantly lifted the mood of its test subjects. In addition to feeling happier, the participants reported increased levels of energy and focus throughout the day.
Now, you could easily set a timer on your phone for 60 minutes and get up for a five-minute walk every time it goes off, but I would argue that there’s something too clinical in that approach. The goal here is to make you feel less tied to your desk and the rudiments of the workday. Even though the walks might be good for you physically, constraining yourself to such an exacting break schedule might eventually have an adverse effect, as you begin to see your walks as just another task.
With an hourglass, you can time your work segments in a way that is less precise, which will add subtle variety to your break schedule. When those breaks do arrive, you won’t have to respond to any alarm sound, either, which will keep the peace with your coworkers while also preventing you from feeling jarred out of work if you’re in a good flow. Additionally, the decorative aspect of whichever hourglass you choose will serve to brighten up and personalize your workspace, potentially lifting your mood even further.
How To Choose The Right Hourglass For You
We’ve talked a lot about the potential health benefits of an hourglass, especially when deployed at work. There are additional reasons to own one of these cool little trinkets, though, and knowing exactly what you want to do with your hourglass will significantly narrow down the list we’ve laid out for you.
Some are also designed around the desire to improve your workday, and might even come with a smaller glass to time your breaks.
If you like the sound of what you read above, and you want an hourglass than can help you stay alert and happy at work, then a simple model that times an hour with relative accuracy is all you really need. There are options out there that time closer to 30 minutes, and these you can simply flip back over to get to an hour. Some are also designed around the desire to improve your workday, and might even come with a smaller glass to time your breaks.
It’s entirely possible that the work scenarios we’ve painted don’t apply to you, however, and that you just want an hourglass for decorative purposes, or to time another activity. If that activity is relatively inert, you can put your focus on the look of a given glass. There are all kinds of hourglasses on the market that can appeal to a wide variety of tastes. Start by finding a few that would match your style and décor, and worry about additional features and functionality after that.
If you’re anything like me, you probably spend too much energy staring at the timers on your treadmill or exercise bike. I find that using an hourglass to time a workout is much less stressful, as the devices make it harder to gauge exactly how much time you have left in your task. This is also a great way to time certain children’s activities, like watching television or playing with a tablet or smartphone.
For deployments like these, it’s wise to look for an hourglass that’s not actually made from glass. There are options made from durable plastics that are much more capable in exercise environments or in the presence of children. The only thing more agonizing than having to replace a broken hourglass is having to clean up all that sand.
A Brief History Of The Hourglass
Humans have employed a number of methods to decipher their experience of time throughout history. Early techniques involved slow currents of water in which chimes floated. These early water clocks — likely invented in India or China — were also the first alarms of any kind.
By the 1500s, however, use of hourglasses waned significantly, as mechanical clocks became more ubiquitous.
The hourglass first appeared to historians on a sarcophagus dated to roughly 350 C.E. This finding supports the theory that hourglasses were first used in ancient Egypt, particularly in the area of Alexandria. Evidence of hourglass use in the West wouldn’t arise until much later.
A 14th century fresco by Ambrogio Lorenzetti depicts an hourglass, and while this is the earliest hard evidence of the item's use in the Western world, there is some indication that they existed among ancient Greeks as early as the 8th century C.E. Compared to water clocks, hourglasses were very popular aboard ships, where the motion of the ship would disturb the accuracy of the former, but not the latter.
By the 1500s, however, use of hourglasses waned significantly, as mechanical clocks became more ubiquitous. Today, hourglasses are rarely seen outside of certain board games or anywhere but the desks of discerning individuals.