To describe Dilip Sivaraman’s pursuit as unusual would be an understatement. He gave up a 17-year career as an architect to become an independent clockmaker, who specializes in mechanical pendulum clocks. The Bengaluru-based horologist talks about his journey from designing buildings to making timepieces.

The false start

While his father encouraged him to follow in his footsteps (he ran an advertising firm in Kochi), Sivaraman decided to move to Bengaluru to study architecture at BMS College of Engineering. “I am cut out for visual design," is Sivaraman’s explanation. After working for five years in Kuwait and Dubai with firms such as Woods Bagot and KEO, he moved back to Bengaluru to join RC Architecture, where he worked for eight years. Despite architecture being perceived as a creative profession, Sivaraman began to feel disillusioned because of restrictions imposed by clients, government regulations and a lack of openness to out-of-the-box ideas.

The switch

In 2014, while he was still employed as an architect, Sivaraman, an avid collector of clocks and watches, happened to buy a wall clock online. “I realized it wasn’t working properly," he recalls. This was to mark the beginning of several trips to watch repair shops. Fed up with not getting the service he wanted, Sivaraman started reading articles online on what might be wrong and he realized that the main problem was that the clock used inferior quality movements (the mechanism that keeps time). “I couldn’t find anybody who made their own movements and those that did were not up to mark," he says, adding that as a “purist" he didn’t want a battery-powered clock. “So, I decided to make my own movements, not really realizing how complicated it was." As he got more involved, Sivaraman also realized that he had found a great outlet for creative expression.

Apart from reading books on physics and metallurgy, he went through countless online videos and joined discussion forums for watchmakers. He took up a 10-day crash course on working a lathe machine at the polytechnic run by KSSIDC in Rajajinagar. “Initially, I would print the parts with a 3D printer but then I had to find someone who would make some of the metal parts which wasn’t easy, since I wasn’t placing a bulk order," he adds. One thing led to another and Sivaraman found himself building a floor-standing mechanical clock which he christened Gato. It took him six months to perfect the escapement and then another eight months to finish the rest of it. But for the first time, Sivaraman felt that he was doing what he loved.

Turning point

In late 2015, he came across an annual competition organized for independent watchmakers by the Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants (AHCI)—an exclusive global association of independent horologists. He made an impetuous decision to enter the competition for which he had to travel to Basel in January 2016. The only Indian to have entered the competition till date, Sivaraman was one of the top 10 finalists among the 30 competitors. It was after some members of the AHCI suggested that Sivaraman take up clockmaking as a commercial undertaking that the 40-year-old first thought of turning his hobby into a profession. The following year, he quit his job to focus solely on clockmaking. The two current models Gato and Lisko (a wall clock) are made on order and cost anywhere between 4 lakh and 7 lakh. It takes Sivaraman about four months to build a piece from scratch; each clock is made with high-grade stainless steel and Invar for the pendulum, and is encased in wood.

‘Mindset is a major hurdle’

Given that his work fits into an extremely niche segment, Sivaraman acknowledges that without his wife’s support, it would have been difficult to give up a well-paying job and pursue his new dream. At a more personal level, he feels that changing one’s mindset is a major hurdle for anyone switching from a mainstream career to something more creative. “Basically, you are swimming against the current and it’s scary to take the plunge but you get one chance in life and you can’t waste it on something mundane," he says.

Learning from the past

While Sivaraman might have felt creatively short-changed as an architect, there are skills such as technical drawing that come in handy when he prepares drawings for all the intricate mechanisms in his timepieces. More importantly, he says his training as an architect helps him “design a product that resonates with people".

Talking about how he’s studying astronomy to incorporate a moon phase design on Lisko’s dial as an option for clients, Sivaraman acknowledges that he still has some way to go in terms of establishing a business, but at least he wakes up every morning looking forward to his workday.

The Switch is a series that traces the journey of people who have made a 180-degree career change.

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