There are people who simply need to know the time. Then there are those to whom a watch is a work of art, a wonder of science and craftsmanship, awe-inspiring in its complexity and precision. A skeleton watch, or even a watch in which certain parts of the mechanism are visible, is a source of fascination and pleasure. To see this amazing little engine at work is to understand the perfection of its tiny universe, each piece doing precisely what it is engineered to do. Even those who haven't the faintest idea what all those wheels are whirring on about, are bound to be fascinated by the aesthetics and the intricate sculpture of all those gleaming metal parts and gemstones. To see a skeletonised watch is to have deep respect for the level of dedication of the artisans who work on the bevelling, satin brushing and polishing of these sometimes minute parts. In recent years, the excitement has been heightened by the ability of contemporary watchmakers and movement designers to create some amazing concepts, combining centuries-old techniques with hi-tech materials. For watch aficionados, a sense of wonder is essential for the appreciation of the watchmaker's art, especially when it comes to visible mechanisms. This is raised to a fine pitch by the Louis Vuitton Tambour Myst?rieuse Calibre LV115 (Euro180,000, HK$1.92 million). The Tambour refers to its drum-like exterior, but the mystery is in the illusion that its hands float inside the bezel, mounted on sapphire crystal discs. There has been a lot of fuss about its customisation options, its price and its signature LV trunk. Marketing hype, some might say. For the collector, its uniqueness lies in its 115 hand-mounted parts, which take a year to assemble into the finished product. It is an homage to the 19th-century mysterious movement clocks of Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin. Abraham-Louis Breguet is the genius who invented the tourbillon, mounting the escapement and the balance wheel in a rotating cage to improve accuracy. In the late 18th century that was groundbreaking stuff. Today, a visible mechanism showing the tourbillon is considered a tribute to Breguet. One of the few watch firms of that era still remaining, Breguet recently introduced a collection called Tradition, with the movement on the front and a very small face. The design is contemporary, simple and pleasing. A new hand-wound platinum model, 7047PT/11/9ZU (HK$1.44 million), continues the tradition of innovation by patents on various aspects including the thoroughly modern silicone balance springs. Jean-Francois Mojon designed the limited edition (100 pieces) of the Harry Winston Opus X (HK$1.76 million). Mechanical, as all coveted collector pieces are, the watch has to be seen functioning for its beauty to be fully appreciated. The time indicators are rotating discs mounted on a revolving frame, moving like planets through their orbit. The orientation is always constant as the indicators turn counter to the rotation of the 24-hour rotation of the frame. Each disc is slightly inclined to follow the curve of the case. With transparent backing, the watch is cased in white gold without a bezel. 'We have very dedicated fans who are collectors of the Opus,' a Harry Winston representative says. 'They understand and appreciate the fine skills involved in high watchmaking. Their names go on the 'reserved list' immediately a new Opus comes out, regardless of the price.' The exposed tourbillon is a significant design element in skeletal watches and especially so in the Roger Dubuis Excalibur collection. In 2005, the company came out with the double flying tourbillion, which it has re-engineered for the 2010 offering (HK$1.94 million), the two tourbillons turning in unison in their visible cases. This is a limited edition of only 28 watches in platinum case with alligator straps. The pierced tourbillon has also been added to the Excalibur family, with visible micro-rotor and flying tourbillon. A limited edition of 88, the pierced tourbillon, in its rose gold case, is a departure from the norm with its new self-winding mechanical movement. Carbon was the material of choice for a pioneering Audemars Piguet watch, which reveals the 'nerve centre' of the timepiece, the tourbillon carriage and the column wheel. The Royal Oak Carbon Concept Tourbillon and Chronograph (HK$2 million) has a carbon case and carbon movement, the idea being to pare the weight down to 'ultra-light'. The use of forged carbon was drawn from aviation technology where high performance was required in large-scale items, but Audemars Piguet was the first to apply the concept on functional small-scale parts. In keeping with the concept, the Royal Oak uses ceramic for the bezel, push pieces and crown, titanium screws to secure the caseback, and anodised aluminium for the central bridge. There is no dial, so the movement's key components are visible. In an interesting design touch, the minute counters are linear, one on each side of the dial. The Greubel Forsey Double Tourbillon Technique (HK$5.07 million to HK$5.23 million) allows admirers a full view of the watch's inner mechanisms, such as shifting gears and rotating barrels. Time plays second fiddle to the movement though, and is displayed only on a side dial. A personal message from the watch's creators is engraved around the case band. The Double Tourbillon Technique watch is available in red gold and in platinum. Cartier includes skeleton watches in some of its classic collections, embedding the function in the form, as the elite house puts it. There is the Rotonde de Cartier skeleton flying tourbillon calibre 9455 MC (HK$955,000), Pasha de Cartier 42mm skeleton with panther design (HK$775,000), and the Santos 100 collection (HK$38,100 to HK$2.2 million). The Santos skeleton watch with diamonds (HK$1.55 million) is particularly eye-catching. The exquisite skeletons of the bridges and main plate of the Rotonde and Santos 100 models form the famous Cartier roman numerals. The result is striking. Chanel's J12 was always a showstopper. It broke new ground by using perfectly black ceramic. Then the 2005 J12 tourbillon became the first in a watch with a ceramic main plate. This year, marking the 10th anniversary of the J12, enters the Chanel Retrograde Myst?rieuse J12 (HK$1.95 million). Peering into its black depths reveals the stark beauty of its internal workings. The watch is perfectly round, because the crown is on the side of the dial, instead of on the case. The crown is vertical and retractable, and the minute hand reverses for 10 minutes of every revolution to avoid the crown, and the minutes are displayed digitally during this period, making the timepiece analogue and digital. The J12 is very handsome indeed; its dial is black ceramic with an 18k yellow or white gold bezel with ceramic hour-markers and pierced skeleton hands. Nicolas Beau, Chanel's international watch director says it is 'one of the most innovative movements' he has seen. 'We call it the Retrograde Mysterieuse because, while on the surface it may look innocuous, the wearer is fully aware of all the mysteries it holds,' he says. For connoisseurs of fine watches, Zenith is a name. It dates back to 1865, when its founder Georges Favre-Jacot was inspired to name his company after the pole star. From the start it was innovative and long after his death, Favre-Jacot's company introduced the world's first automatic chronograph movement, El Primero. Zenith's latest watch, Christophe Colomb (HK$1.48 million), however, pays tribute to Christopher Columbus, the bold 15th-century explorer who was the first to tackle the ocean head on rather than follow coastlines. The watch's design is inspired by marine chronometer instruments and its regulating mechanism can be viewed via protruding sapphire glass domes on the front and back. The Christophe Colomb watch comes in 18k rose or white gold with an alligator or crocodile strap. This watch is a limited edition of 25 pieces. All these timepieces are not only examples of precision and decoration, but they also showcase the avant garde watchmaking talent in haute horlogerie and the industry's boundless capacity for innovation.