The hourglass is an antiquated timing instrument consisting of two glass chambers connected vertically by a narrow passage which allows sand to trickle from the upper part to the lower by means of gravity. The amount of sand determines the amount of time that passes as the chamber is emptied. The image of the sand being emptied in the hourglass creates a visual metaphor for the limited duration of the days of our lives.
An hourglass (sandglass, sand timer, sand watch, sand clock, egg timer) measures the passage of a few minutes or an hour of time. It has two connected vertical glass bulbs allowing a regulated trickle of material from the top to the bottom. Once the top bulb is empty, it can be inverted to begin timing again. Factors affecting the time measured include the amount of sand, the bulb size, the neck width, and the sand quality. Alternatives to sand are powdered eggshell and powdered marble (sources disagree on the best material). In modern times, hourglasses are ornamental, or used when an approximate measure suffices, as in egg timers for cooking or for board games.
The origin of the hourglass is unclear, although it may have been introduced to Europe by an 8th-century monk named Luitprand, who served at the cathedral in Chartres, France. It was not until the 14th century that the hourglass was seen commonly, the earliest firm evidence being a depiction in the 1338 fresco Allegory of Good Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Unlike its predecessor the clepsydra, or water clock, which may have been invented in ancient Egypt, the hourglass is believed to have originated in medieval Europe. This theory is based on the fact that the first written records of it were mostly from logbooks of European ships. Written records from the same period mention the hourglass, and it appears in lists of ships stores. An early record is a sales receipt of Thomas de Stetesham, clerk of the English ship La George, in 1345.
The shape behind the hourglass has hardly any written evidence of why its external form is the shape that it is. The glass bulbs used, however, have changed in style and design over time. While the main designs have always been ampoule in shape, the bulbs were not always connected. The first hourglasses were two separate bulbs with a cord wrapped at their union that was then coated in wax to hold the piece together and let sand flow in between. It was not until 1760 that both bulbs were blown together to keep moisture out of the bulbs and regulate the pressure within the bulb that varied the flow.
Source : Wikipedia