Hong Kong is taking on the likes of London and New York as an international auction hub, with sales driven by a growing demand for Chinese art. Last year, auction house Christie's reaped more than $1.39 billion in sales in Hong Kong, a regional record. Rival Sotheby's also topped $1 billion for the first time last year. Cheung Chiu-kwan, who heads Sotheby's department of Chinese paintings, said the past two years had seen strong growth in sales and prices. 'This reflects the potential for further growth and the importance of Hong Kong as a major market for Chinese art worldwide,' he said. Perhaps more significantly, the auction houses are getting more consignments of valuable works. Christie's spring sale preview today boasts a 10-metre wide triptych, Juin-Octobre 85, by Zhao Wuji, one of France's most renowned Chinese artists. If the work fetches its $20 million estimate, the sale will set a new Christie's record for a Chinese oil painting. 'Our turnover in 2004 recorded an almost 80 per cent increase year on year. If we can achieve the same kind of growth this year, it would be pretty nice,' said Stephen Cheng Ho-feg, Christie's chief operating officer for Asia. Such growth would see the auction house realise more than $2.5 billion in sales this year, a target Christie's appears to be preparing for. According to Mr Cheng, auctions have been expanded to four days from three. They will also be moved to the Convention and Exhibition Centre, where the massive convention hall offers four times the space of the previous location, the JW Marriott hotel. 'The space at JW Marriott was just too tight for what we could sell,' Mr Cheng said, adding that the hotel did offer to make its Man Ho Chinese restaurant available as exhibition space. For the spring sale, Christie's will increase the number of telephone lines for bids from 22 to 40, while more than 60 overseas staff, including at least six auctioneers, are arriving to help. Christie's has also hired about 60 temporary workers. 'We've obviously raised our clients' expectations by moving to such a large venue,' he said. The move has at least doubled the total expenses for the spring sale, he added, with the new venue costing $67,703 a day to rent. Sotheby's is understood to be sticking with the Island Shangri-La for its sales venue. 'The competition is not just between the two houses. Hong Kong is a mature market and can maintain its hub status,' Mr Cheung said.