HONGKONG watchmaker Kiu Tai-yu, of Kew & Cie Antique Watches & Clocks in Central, astonished the world's watch manufacturing community when he made his first high-precision timing tourbillon. He has since built several more. A tourbillon watch is traditionally only made in the Western world by the few people with superb skills. Tourbillons involve such a high standard of workmanship they are considered to be an art form. Kiu's achievement helped increase Hongkong's standing in the world market as producers of quality time pieces. Antique tourbillons are rarely seen - just glimpsed perhaps before they go under the hammer at auction, where they are snapped up by watch lovers and shrewd investors. So there is great interest in Kiu's creations. He was inspired to attempt this extraordinary feat of mechanical engineering after being seeing a tourbillon watch at a watch fair in Basle in 1990. ''I wanted to prove that the Hongkong watch making industry had reached international standards and prove to myself that I could do it. So I examined the watch for two days and started to look for materials and tools to make one when I returned to Hongkong,'' said Kiu. Tourbillons are famous for their accuracy - the precision workmanship ensures that they are accurate to within two seconds in a week. ''Other watches lose a considerable amount of time due to the force of gravity - they go faster if placed horizontally and slower if placed vertically,'' explained Kiu. ''However, with tourbillon, the reliability is almost absolute. This is what advanced technology cannot guarantee today.'' More than 30 years of dedication to watch-making developed from Kiu's childhood fascination with all things small and mechanical. Antique watches are his life and his love - he works with them and his hobby is collecting them. It was his skill and experience which enabled him to open an antique watch shop when he came to Hongkong from China 12 years ago. He predicted a bright future for the Hongkong watch industry. ''I talked to a lot of other manufacturers in Basle and came away very pleased, because they made me feel very optimistic about the times to come. ''Antique watches are becoming increasingly popular. There is a big market for them all over the world. ''Our biggest buyers Japan, where people are very keen for antique watches,'' Kiu said. He said the watches were popular with rich Japanese because they are portable status symbols. Kew & Cie export its antique watches and prices depend entirely on the type of watch. Potential buyers of Kiu's tourbillon watch, however, should be prepared to part with around $300,000 per time piece.