Clock tattoo meaning is inextricably linked to the passage of time and the relationship between the dreams, goals, and achievements you have between the beginning of life and its end. It’s been said that time is the most valuable thing a man can spend in his lifetime. It’s quite easy to see why the measurement of time can have such a meaningful impact. It’s important to understand the unique ideas clock tattoos and the supporting imagery represents. For some, a clock tattoo design can be a symbol of two things: life and death. Time never stops, but you can be certain of one thing – it will always catch up to you. A broken clock, melting clock, or one without hands may be favored by those who answer to no one but themselves. Since their creation, whether sundial, hourglasses, roman numeral grandfather clocks, or old pocket watches, these devices on the skin have come to represent the fleeting nature of time, specifically of man’s life. Below you’ll find a thorough breakdown of different clock tattoo symbolism you can apply to your own body art.
Traditional Clock Tattoo Symbolism
Cogs Within Clocks Tattoo Art
At the heart of a timepiece lay the cogs, wheels, and springs that allowed for accuracy and longevity.
When applied to a tattoo, revealing the cogs of a watch or clock can represent the complexity of the wearer’s emotions and psyche, all contained beneath the beautiful facade of the watch face.
The craftsmanship in these timepieces is incredible and the deeper significance that these inner workings hold is equally as interesting, which holds great interest for tattoo lovers with an appreciation for the symbolism of what lies beneath the surface.
Eye and Clock Tattoo Meanings
The meaning of a combination eye and clock tattoo is often pieces linking the different meanings ascribed to the passage of time, truth, and elements of life and death.
The eye tattoo design symbolizes truth, protection, and guidance, while the clock is a classical tattoo idea, a powerful symbol of the passage of time, and march towards the finish.
Eye and clock tattoos often utilize elements of a realistic or geometric eye in combination with a stylized 3D tattoo.
Clock Face Tattoo Meanings
Clocks started as simple tools to tell time and quickly evolved into intricate works of art and technology.
Prior to the glowing wall clock and the digital revolution, traditional clock timepieces were the pinnacles of engineering.
The precision and complexity that was involved in creating accurate timepieces (or the architectural splendor of a full-length grandfather clock) prior to the development of digital technology are astounding.
The attention to detail that went into these timepieces didn’t stop at functionality.
The artistic side of clocks and watch tattoo style has become some of the most beautiful expressions of art for the die-hard tattoo enthusiast.
Hourglass Tattoo Symbolism
Clocks, ouroboros, and the infinity symbol. All of these disparate images represent different aspects of the mystical nature of time, however, there is no image more instantly recognizable which is so inextricably tied to time than the hourglass.
Prior to the development of these temporal devices, man’s ability to measure time was limited to examining the natural world around him (and from the hourglass eventually came the clock).
As the grains of sand pass from one glass bulb to the next, so do the moments of our lives move from the future before us to the past at our backs.
The hourglass tattoo design is often depicted with wings to further emphasize the transitory essence of our time on this plane, and the inability to recapture the time we’ve lost.
Pocket Watch Tattoo Meanings
An old pocket watch was once a symbol of luxury and wealth, with bespoke gentlemen carrying and displaying these ornate timepieces as a form of functional jewelry.
While few if any men still carry these interesting chronographs to tell the time, they continue to maintain a connection to a time of luxury.
Pocket watches are also great elements to incorporate into body art thanks to the opportunity they provide to add the complexity of 3D tattoo detail, deeper symbolic meaning, or even the use of cool roman numeral effects.
Clock and Skull Tattoo Meanings
The ultimate representations of our own mortality, skulls have been common elements in tattoos for decades, and they still hold plenty of symbolic weight.
Skulls make for great tattoos thanks to the variety of styles that can make use of these designs, and when incorporated into a flowing forearm tattoo or sleeved grim reaper arm tattoo, they gain a special symbolic meaning.
We’re all racing against the clock, with a finite amount of time laid out before us, and a clock and skull tattoo is a great way to let the world know you’re fully aware of your limited time on this earth.
Different Clock Tattoos: Time Is a Human Construct
Salvador Dali Melting Clock Designs
A clock that is shown to be distorted and melting emphasizes that although seconds will always tick on, time itself is less important than what is done with it.
Surreal artist Salvador Dali’s melting clock has found resonance with numerous people, including many different types of tattoo enthusiasts.
This sneer in the face of the rigidity of time shows an admirable rebellion against letting life be ruled by traditional ideas of what should happen and when.
Many who choose to ink melting clocks on their body do so as a reminder, either to themselves or to others, not to let imaginary deadlines get in the way. They impart the idea that dreams don’t have an expiration date. Though it may seem too late for a particular goal, there is no one actually keeping time.
Broken Hourglass Tattoo Symbolism
A broken hourglass has become a popular element in tattoos to represent death and time running out.
In more recent times this image has taken on a more positive meaning; people often struggle with their connection to past events, often traumatic, that make it difficult to move forward in a positive direction with their lives.
These shattered timers are often used as a representation of an individual breaking free of the past and carrying on with their lives, unencumbered by emotional baggage.
Broken Clock Tattoo Meanings
Perhaps the most symbolically powerful of all the different timepieces we’ve examined, the broken clock holds the deepest meaning.
If clocks represent man’s understanding of the finite nature of existence, then a broken clock often symbolizes the wearer’s indifference towards this aspect of life.
These tattoos demonstrate the way the wearer lives in the moment, valuing experience and casting the importance of measuring time to the wayside.
Secondary Clock Tattoo Ideas and Design Application
Clocks and Geographic Tattoo Art
While clocks are man’s attempt at interpreting time, the work of geography and cartography is his effort to understand the physical world.
Incorporating these two different disciplines into one design can create beautiful tattoos that represent the wearer’s quest for knowledge and understanding in this often chaotic world.
Whether full color or black and gray, clocks and maps make for excellent, complementary design elements.
Compass and Clock Tattoo Meanings
The clock and compass tattoo is used in combination to provide symbols of time (clock) and direction (compass), to remind you that time in your life is limited so you need to explore in every direction possible until that time runs out.
While clocks are man’s attempt at interpreting time, the work of geography and cartography is his effort to understand the physical world, so you’ll often find maps and geographical instruments as well.
Incorporating these different symbols into one clock, map, and compass tattoo design can create beautiful ink representing the wearer’s quest for knowledge and understanding during their lifetime.
Traditional Clock and Rose Tattoo Symbolism
Roses are a classic element of body art. Every tattoo artist must have the ability to ink these beautiful flowers on peoples’ bodies.
A rose tattoo is often depicted with the traditional clock to illustrate the relationship between beauty and time.
Roses, often associated with romantic love and fidelity, work great in tattoos thanks to the variety of colors and depictions they can form to create layers of meaning.
A talented tattoo artist can use them either as the focal point of a clock tattoo idea or as a secondary symbol made to create a different meaning.
Realistic Clock Tattoo Art
A realistic clock tattoo is a striking choice that calls immediate attention to itself and leaves a distinct impression on all who view it.
A realistic clock tattoo hooks our visual attention with attention to detail, either as the main imagery in a complex tattoo idea or supporting secondary image.
It creates a visual loop between the wearer and the viewer, offering the concept of time in relation to the wearer, and/or the tattooed piece itself.
Big Ben Tattoo Designs
Big Ben is a popular landmark tattoo design for those with an affinity for the ultimate grandfather clock tattoo, or those looking for British symbolism.
The grandiose architecture and the time-honored tradition of the ringing bell remind us to appreciate the beauty of the world and the consistency of time.
This tremendous piece of history is magnificent to behold. The beautiful, bold structure stands tall and overlooks the bustling city of London, and its tremendous architecture can form the basis for beautiful realistic grandfather clock tattoo art.
The extravagant details of the clock that can be drawn in ink highlight the intense work that went into the design of Big Ben, while serving as a reminder to enjoy elusive time as it passes and to spend our days appreciating the world around us.
Artistic Clock Tattoo Ideas
Art is one of the most profound aspects of humanity, and the ability to observe the outside world and recreate it in a more creative way is fundamental to the human experience.
The way that abstract art is able to provide the means of both creation and interpretation of complex ideas is what separates us from the animal kingdom.
Applying this artistic approach to clocks and timepieces can make for beautiful art that is deeply meaningful: one only has to look to Dali’s iconic melting clocks in The Persistence of Memory to see the creative potential for an abstract interpretation of clocks.