Clock Symbolism – What Does it Mean? - Symbol Sage (2023)

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Table of Contents

  • What Are Clocks?
  • What Do Clocks Symbolize?
  • A Brief History of Clocks
  • Wrapping Up

The measurement of time originated back in ancient Egypt, around 1500 B.C. The Egyptians understood the concept of time and recognized the importance of measuring it. It was this knowledge combined with the need to measure time which instigated the invention of different timepieces over the years and ultimately to the clock as we know it today.

In the modern world, clocks are simple devices which play an important role in our daily lives. However, not many are aware of their symbolism. In this article, we’ll be taking a close look at the history of clocks and their symbolism.

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What Are Clocks?

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Designed to measure, record, and indicate time, the clock is one of the oldest instruments invented by humans. Before the invention of the clock, people used sundials, hourglasses, and water clocks. Today, a clock refers to any type of device that’s used to measure and display time.

Clocks are not usually carried around but placed in a location where they can be seen easily, such as on a table or mounted on a wall. Watches, unlike clocks, are timepieces that share the same basic concept of a clock but are carried on one’s person.

Clocks keep time using a physical object known as a harmonic oscillator which vibrates at a specific frequency to produce microwaves. The first clock that was created using this mechanism was the pendulum clock, designed and built by Christiaan Huygens in 1956.

Since then, there have been various types of clocks created, each model more advanced than the one before. Some of the most used types include the following:

  • Analog Clock – This is the traditional clock that shows time on its face using fixed numbered dials, the hour hand, minute hand, and second hand, placed in a circle.
  • Digital Clocks –These are precise and reliable timepieces that use numeric displays to tell time. The display formats include a 24-hour notation (00:00 to 23:00) and a 12-hour notation, where the numbers are shown from 1 to 12 with an AM/PM indicator.
  • Speaking Clocks –These use a recording of a computer or a human voice to tell the time out loud. Speaking clocks are designed for visually impaired individuals and are used in alternation with tactile clocks whose display can be read by touch.

What Do Clocks Symbolize?

As instruments of time, clocks have various symbolism based on the same theme. Here’s a look at the symbolism and meaning behind the clock.

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  • Time Pressure – Clocks can symbolize feelings of time pressure. They can also serve as a reminder that time should be used wisely as it is a limited resource.
  • Feeling Overwhelmed – A clock can also signify emotional overwhelm caused by something in one’s life, perhaps a tight schedule or a deadline that needs to be met.
  • Passage of Time – Clocks are also thought to represent the passage of time, which moves forward relentlessly, and once gone can never be recovered. They can be viewed as a sign that each minute is precious, and that it’s important to live every minute of one’s life to the fullest.
  • Life and Death – Clocks are considered to be a symbol of life and death. They’re a clear sign that nothing remains permanent in life and that everything changes at some point or other.
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The Symbolism of Clock Tattoos

Many tattoo enthusiasts choose clock tattoos to symbolize an aspect of their life, or to express their personality and desires. While the general meaning of clocks still apply in this case, there are also specific meanings attached to particular tattoo designs. Here are a few examples:

  • Melting Clock Design – Made famous by Salvador Dali’s paintings, the melting clock is a representation of passing time. It can also represent a loss and waste of time, or the inability of humans to control time.
  • Grandfather Clock Tattoo – This vintage tattoo design is usually chosen to symbolize nostalgia for time or events that have passed.
  • Prison Clock Design – A prison clock tattoo is drawn as a broken clock with no hands. It signifies the confinement that the wearer is subjected to. A person may choose this tattoo design to express feeling like a prisoner in a certain situation. It can also represent being stuck in a certain time in the past, or holding onto the past.
  • Sundial Design – A sundial tattoo design is an indication of ancient wisdom, symbolism stemming from the fact that the sundial was a clever and innovative invention of great use to ancient civilizations.
  • Clock and Rose Tatoo – A clock depicted together with a rose is a symbol of everlasting love, representing eternity. This comes from the the representation of the rose as a symbol of love and that of the clock as a symbol of time.
  • Cuckoo Clock – These clocks are most often featured in popular culture and represent innocence, old age, childhood, the past, and fun.

A Brief History of Clocks

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Before the invention of the first clock, ancient civilizations observed nature and used deductive reasoning to tell time. The earliest method involved using the moon as a time-keeper. Observing the moon taught them how to measure hours, days, and months.

A full moon cycle meant that a month had gone by, while the appearance and disappearance of the moon meant that a day had passed. Hours of the day were measured as estimates using the position of the moon in the sky. Months were also measured using the seasons of year for planning festivities and for migratory purposes.

Over time, however, humans became more curious about the passage of time and began to come up with simple inventions to measure it. Their inventions include the following:

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  • The Merkhet – Used in Egypt around 600 BC, merkhets were used to tell time at night. This simple device featured a straight bar connected to a plumb line. Two merkhets were used together, one aligned with the north star, and the other to establish a longitudinal line known as a meridian that ran from north to south. The meridian was used as a reference point to track the movement of certain stars as they crossed the line.
  • The Sundial or Oblique– This device was used in Egyptian, Roman, and Sumerian cultures over 5,500 years ago. Powered by sunlight, the sundial indicates the time on the movement of the sun across the sky. However, sundials could only be used in the daytime, so it became necessary to devise a different way of measuring the time that could work at night or on cloudy days when the sun was hidden.
  • The Water Clock – The earliest designs of water clocks can be traced back to the Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures. Water clocks measure time by using the inflow or outflow of water. The outflow water clock design involved a container filled with water. The water would drain evenly and slowly out of the container. Inflow water clocks were used in the same way, but with the water filling into a marked container.
  • The Candle Clock – First used in ancient China, the candle clock began with the burning of a marked candle. The time was measured by how much wax had burned and by observing which markings had melted off. This method was highly accurate since the rate of burning is nearly constant. However, when blowing wind moved the flame, the candle burned faster so it had to be placed in a location where it would be protected from the wind.
  • The Hourglass – Believed to have been created by a monk in 8th century France, the hourglass featured two glass globes, one filled with sand and the other one empty. The globes were connected by a narrow neck through which sand would gradually trickle from top to bottom. Once the bottom globe was full, the hourglass would be turned upside down to repeat the process.

By the 13th century, these time-keeping methods had spread across the world but there was still a need for a more dependable method. This need gave rise to the creation of the mechanical clock.

The earliest mechanical clocks worked using one of two mechanisms. One involved gears that were controlled using water pressure, while the other was the Verge and Foliot mechanism.

The latter had a bar called the Foliot with verges on both ends weighted with pebbles that enable a back and forth movement to control the gear. These clocks were also fitted with bells which rang at specific times. Religious movements and monasteries used clocks with bells to alert the devotees about the hours set for prayer.

Although these early mechanical clocks were a definite improvement from the primitive devices, their accuracy was questionable. It was Huygens who solved this problem with his invention of the pendulum clock. After several improvements were made to the pendulum clock , the Shortt-Synchronome clock, an electromechanical device, was created. This led to the invention of the quartz clock that’s in use today.

Wrapping Up

As a symbol of time and its passage, the clock continues to be a reminder of the limited amount of time living beings have on earth. As the clock moves, so does life. It’s not possible to reset time by turning back the hands of the clock, so it is important to recognize its value and make the most of every precious minute.


What is the symbolism of a clock? ›

Common Meanings

The clock can symbolize a feeling of time pressure. If this meaning resonates, it may indicate a need to give yourself the gift of time. It is also a reminder that time is a limited resource that must be used wisely.

What is the deep meaning of clock? ›

Passage of Time – Clocks are also thought to represent the passage of time, which moves forward relentlessly, and once gone can never be recovered. They can be viewed as a sign that each minute is precious, and that it's important to live every minute of one's life to the fullest.

What does the clock symbolize in Masque of the Red death? ›

In "The Masque of the Red Death," the ebony clock symbolizes the inescapable passage of time leading up to death. In literature, the color black is often connected to the idea of death. Further, the people are made uneasy as the clock strikes each hour, showing the passage of time.

How is a person like a clock? ›

I'm like a clock. I can compare myself to a clock because it keeps on moving. No matter how hard and tiring our life is, it keeps on moving. Though sometimes, the clock stops because the battery may lose its energy, so does us.

What does a clock teach us? ›

Clocks teach us how to tell time, but also the right time to do something. Time is something that quotes love to talk about.

What is a clock in the Bible? ›

Neither the word "calendar" nor the word "clock" is used in the Bible. Only one sun-dial is mentioned, and that belonged to a king. It was on this dial of King Ahaz that the prophet Isaiah is said to have caused the shadow to move backward 10 degrees as a sign to King Hezekiah.

What is a clock in psychology? ›

The clock-drawing test is a quick way to screen for early dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. It involves drawing a clock on a piece of paper with numbers, clock hands, and a specific time. The inability to do so is a strong indication of mental decline.

What does the death clock mean? ›

death clock (plural death clocks) A metaphorical clock representing when one is expected to die, e.g. when someone expects to have a short lifespan because of an illness. quotations ▼

What do the seven chambers and the clock symbolize? ›

'The Masque of the Red Death' Rooms

The seven colored rooms are thought to represent the seven stages of life. They begin in the east and head west like the sun toward the end of the day.

What does the clock in the 7th room symbolize? ›

In other words, why might Poe have placed the clock in this room? 7th room- westernmost wall; Edgar places the clock in that room to symbolize that every hour when the clock chimes, they've lost an hour of their life and they are closer to death.

How can you relate a clock in your life? ›

The clock tells us when to get up, when to go to work, when to eat, when to go home, when to sleep, and then the cycle repeats itself each day. As such, we need to be careful on how much we allow the clock to control us.

What is the clock of life? ›

And no man has the power. To tell just when the hands will stop. At late or early hour.

What is a clock in simple words? ›

: a device other than a watch for indicating or measuring time commonly by means of hands moving on a dial. broadly : any periodic system by which time is measured. : a registering device usually with a dial.

Why is it important to read a clock? ›

Knowing how to tell time is a very important skill. It can help you determine whether you're running late or whether you have plenty of time to spare. It can help you catch a train, bus, or plane on time, and allows you to know if you're going to make it to an important get-together early or late.

What do the three hands of a clock tell us answer? ›

There are three hands in a clock, the hour hand, the minute hand, and the second hand. The smallest one is the hour hand and the hand bigger than the hour hand is the minute hand. The second hand moves relatively quicker than the other two hands. The hour hand on a clock represents the hour.

What is God's hour? ›

The typical schedule for the Divine Hours follows a three-hour pattern, with prayers at 6:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., noon, 3:00 p.m., and 6:00 p.m. In addition, there are evening prayers and morning prayers outside of these times.

What is the time of God called? ›

God's time (metaphysical time) has no intrinsic metric and is constituted purely by the divine life itself (Padgett 1992, 2001; DeWeese 2002, 2004). If God is omnitemporal, his metaphysical time does map in some way onto our physical time.

What is the 3 o'clock prayer in the Bible? ›

“At three o'clock, implore My mercy, especially for sinners; and, if only for a brief moment, immerse yourself in My Passion, particularly in My abandonment at the moment of agony. This is the hour of great mercy for the whole world. I will allow you to enter into My mortal sorrow.

What part of the brain is the clock? ›

In vertebrate animals, including humans, the master clock is a group of about 20,000 nerve cells (neurons) that form a structure called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. The SCN is in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus and receives direct input from the eyes.

What is a manipulative clock? ›

Geared Clock manipulatives allow for exploration of the relationship between minutes and hours, telling time, and determining elapsed time. The hour and minute hands of the Clock are color coded to match the hour and minute markings on the clock face. This design helps students to read an analog clock.

Why is the brain like a clock? ›

The brain's impressively accurate internal clock allows us to detect the passage of time, a skill essential for many critical daily functions. Without the ability to track elapsed time, our morning shower could continue indefinitely.

Are clocks associated with death? ›

Less blunt symbols of death frequently allude to the passage of time and the fragility of life, and can be described as memento mori; that is, an artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death. Clocks, hourglasses, sundials, and other timepieces both call to mind that time is passing.

Why do people stop clocks when someone dies? ›

Someone has died, and stopping the clocks in the house of the deceased, silencing them, is an old tradition, similar to closing the blinds or curtains and covering the mirrors. The clock would be set going again after the funeral. Some people believe stopping the clock was to mark the exact time the loved one had died.

What time Is The death clock? ›

The Bulletin has reset the minute hand on the Doomsday Clock 25 times since its debut in 1947, most recently in 2023 when we moved it from 100 seconds to midnight to 90 seconds to midnight.

What are the important symbols in the story of an hour? ›

Symbols, such as the setting, Louise's heart trouble, and the open window, play an integral role in the development of “The Story of an Hour”, as they are used to reinforce the overarching theme of the desire for independence.

What is symbolic in the story of an hour? ›

The open window from which Louise gazes for much of the story represents the freedom and opportunities that await her after her husband has died. From the window, Louise sees blue sky, fluffy clouds, and treetops. She hears people and birds singing and smells a coming rainstorm.

What does the blue room symbolize? ›

According to this reading, the blue room, which is furthest to the east, represents birth. The color suggests the "unknown" from which a human being comes into the world. The next room is purple, a combination of blue (birth) and red (associated with life, intensity) suggests the beginnings of growth.

What does the clock in the black room symbolize? ›

The symbolic significance of the clock and the black room is made explicit as the black room becomes the site of death for Prospero and his friends. The clock heralded the arrival of the masked figure, and the black room became its destination.

What does the clock symbolize In The Night Circus? ›

The clock symbolizes perfect timing. All the events in the book hinge on exact timing. The night circus must start precisely at dusk, and the midnight meal is served precisely at midnight.

What does the striking of the clock interrupt? ›

What effect does the striking of the clock have on the revellers? The striking of the clock in the seventh room of the castle of Prince Prospero produces a harrowing effect upon the guests as it arrests both the musicians and dancers, and it reminds them of the passage of time.

What are the symbols in The Masque of the Red Death? ›

Green, the next color, suggests the "spring" of life (youth), orange the summer and autumn of life. White, the next color, suggests age – think white hair, and bones. Violet (a combination of purple and blue, or purple and grey) is a shadowy color, and represents darkness and death. And black, obviously, is death.

What are three symbols in The Masque of the Red Death? ›

The mummer -- the figure in the mask representing death -- is dressed all in black. The clock that is forever chiming the hour is black and draped in black velvet, symbolizing funerals. The windows in the room are painted red, symbolizing terror.

Where is the clock in The Masque of Red Death? ›

Answer and Explanation: In Poe's "The Masque of the Red Death," the story's famous "clock" sits in the seventh room of Prince Prospero's palace. Each room within this palace is associated with different colors.

What does the clock in the tea scene symbolize? ›

When Nick invites Daisy and Gatsby to tea at his house, the clock is a focal point during the interaction. Because Gatsby and Daisy had not seen each other for five years, the clock symbolizes the passage of time.


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