Specialised chromatin in which canonical histone H3 is replaced by CENP-A, an H3 related protein, is a signature of active centromeres and provides the foundation for kinetochore assembly. The location of centromeres is not fixed since centromeres can be inactivated and new centromeres can arise at novel locations independently of specific DNA sequence elements. Therefore, the establishment and maintenance of CENP-A chromatin and kinetochores provide an exquisite example of genuine epigenetic regulation. The composition of CENP-A nucleosomes is contentious but several studies suggest that, like regular H3 particles, they are octamers. Recent analyses have provided insight into how CENP-A is recognised and propagated, identified roles for post-translational modifications and dissected how CENP-A recruits other centromere proteins to mediate kinetochore assembly.