Christie's is hoping a new online service in Hong Kong will help the international auction house reach out to a new generation of internet-savvy collectors who might feel more comfortable bidding with virtual auction paddles in the privacy of their living rooms. It will launch the Christie's Live service in Asia on Sunday, when it kicks off its Hong Kong spring sales of Asian art, jewellery and watches. The service debuted in New York last July and was then launched in London and Geneva. After Hong Kong, it will be rolled out in Los Angeles, Madrid and Milan. Online sales have so far reached US$16.1 million. Last September, a contemporary Indian painting went for US$408,000, the top lot sold using the system. 'More than 200 people have registered for the service for the Hong Kong sale so the response so far has been very encouraging. But it's still at an early stage and people need to feel comfortable with it,' Stephen Cheng Ho-fee, Christie's regional chief operating officer for Asia, said. Auction houses are eager to shrug off the image of fine art collecting as exclusive and highbrow, and broaden their appeal to bidders who might be intimidated by a traditional auction. Some people might also prefer the anonymity of online bidding. Christie's is a relative latecomer to the online auction market, however. In June 2002, Sotheby's teamed up with online marketplace eBay to launch real-time online bidding for some of its sales in New York and London. It was shut down a year later after failing to generate a profit. The Christie's service is now available for about 95 per cent of its auctions and should be extended to all sales by the end of this year, Mr Cheng said. Next week's spring sale is expected to bring in about HK$1.1 billion. Like traditional auctions, online bidders will be subject to a credit check and must indicate the amount they are likely to spend. This helps ensure prices are not deliberately bid up by disingenuous participants. 'Not that many have been turned down but we have denied people because banks give us worrisome signs about their credit,' Mr Cheng said. 'If you say you plan to spend US$3 million, we have to check that you really can spend that amount. But if it's US$5,000, we will be less concerned.' Online registration must be done at least two working days prior to a sale to allow time for credit checks.