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Tidbits - clepsammia



Sounds like a disease, doesn’t it? Hey, he’s got Clepsammia.
Huh? Is it catching? Whoa. Don’t let him near me. But not to
worry, folks, for Clepsammia is also known as the sandglass, and
the hourglass. It was one of the earliest modes by which man
measured time. The invention of the hourglass is credited to a
monk by the name of Luitprand from Chartres, sometime around the
turn of 8th century. Charlemagne had one that was so large that
it had to be turned only once every twelve hours. He had
divisions marked on the outside in order to measure the passage
of the hours. And when they speak of the sands of time passing
quickly, you now know where they got it from.

Columbus, during his travels on the high seas, measured the
passing of time by using a half-hour Clepsammia. Fact of the
matter was that sailors used Clepsammias that measured less than
a minute while knotted log lines were allowed to run out. They
used this system of measurement in order to determine how fast
their ships were traveling. If the number of knots passed within
a prescribed interval on the hourglass, then that ship was
traveling that many knots per hour. And that’s where the word
"knot" came to be used to ships’ speeds.

And by the end of the sixteenth century, hourglasses were
perched on many a preacher’s pulpit in order to ensure a sermon
of moderate length. English law, around 1483, demanded that the
"sermon-glass" be placed over the pulpits in order for the
congregation to be able to determine if the preacher was not
being a tad over-zealous. The church in fact, during the early
years of the Renaissance, requested the hourglasses be
constructed in such a fashion that the intervals measured were
between fifteen and thirty minutes…a boon for those who had
been subjected to two hour sermons.

Quick addendum here folks. For those of you who want to know
just how long two hours is…I want you to try this. Watch a
movie on T.V. one night, armed with a stop-watch. Now measure the
length of your average scene before it switches. Time
lapse…about ten to twenty seconds. No more. Now think of a
sermon two hours long…that’s um… about 7200 seconds. Whew!
Lucky thing someone thought of a Clepsammia.

Teachers of the day often timed their lectures by the
hourglass… limiting themselves to excessive pedantries. Of
course, the old hourglass was also at times used as a punitive
device bu which some teachers were able to control their
students. Hey. If you guys don’t start doing your work correctly,
I’m bringing in a three hour Clepsammia for tomorrow’s lecture.
Oh no. C’mon teach. We’ll be good. We promise. And in England the
House of Commons kept a two-minute Clepsammia in order to time
intervals for voting.

Later, the Clepsammia gave way to water-clocks and then
mechanical clocks…and the rest is history.

And so now that this is all said and done, some of you might
say, yeah, okay, it’s interesting and all that…but what does it
have to do with jewelry. Well…at the risk of crass
commercialism, I’ll tell you. I’ve just created a tiny jewel of a
Clepsammia, a working model a little less than an inch high, made
of 14 karat yellow gold and using, instead of sand, genuine
diamond grain. If you want to see it, go to: It’s worth the visit.

And there ya have it.
That’s it for this week folks.
Catch you all next week.

Take care,
Benjamin Mark

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