London — Porcelain is their great love. They grew up with it. They live with it. It is their hobby and their business. And now it is also Brian and Anna Haughton's favorite project - the yearly International Ceramics Fair and Seminar in London.
Three years ago, while en route to New York for a porcelain auction sale, the Haughtons met a fellow antiques dealer who was on his way to a Japanese netsuke conference in Hawaii. They thought a conference for specialists was such a good idea that they immediately considered organizing a gathering place for people who love porcelain.
''The concept of such a project utterly gripped us. We had to do it,'' Mr. Haughton said during a recent interview.
The conference takes place each June at the Dorchester Hotel in London; it includes pottery, glass, and enamels, as well as English, continental, and Oriental porcelain.
''Since we felt that these fields were so vast and that there was so much to be learned about them,'' Mr. Haughton said, ''we first called on our academic friends in the museums and asked if they would support our effort by giving lectures on their areas of expertise. Most of them were delighted to accept, because no such scheme to bring dealers, collectors, and academic experts together had ever been proposed before.''
The couple next signed up a number of top-quality dealers in Britain, the United States, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, and France. When the project seemed secured, they printed up a brochure which announced the fair and attracted the remaining exhibitors.
At the outset, the Haughtons decided not to restrict goods shown to any one time period. A screening committee of experts, which must approve every item shown, judges for quality and authenticity, not age. Consequently, the objects shown range from antiquity to the present.
The Haughtons' first fair in 1982 attracted about 3,000 visitors. In 1983 and '84 more than 7,500 people came to look, buy, and learn. Their next ceramic fair has been set for next June 14-17.
''In June, London is the center of the porcelain world,'' commented S. Hertogenbosch, of the Dutch firm of Vanderven & Vanderven Antiquairs, at this year's recent fair. ''There is no other place where you can see and handle such beautiful collections. The Haughtons have provided the ideal meeting place and bridge between dealers, academics, and collectors. This cross-fertilization of ideas and merchandise from many countries is of great importance to the art market.''
''This fair is drawing people's attention to ceramics in many ways,'' declared dealer Earle D. Vandekar, who has shops in both London and New York. ''The lectures give them a means of looking with greater depth of knowledge and more understanding of historical context.'' (There were 22 lectures this year by museum experts on subjects ranging from Irish glass to Staffordshire figures and Sevres porcelain.)
Mr. Vandekar, who was also showing at the Grosvenor House Antique Fair, has found ceramics in very strong demand during the past year on both sides of the Atlantic. Behind this, he believes, is a general upswing in interest in all antiques during the last decade. But now, he said, people who own antique breakfronts, tables, and secretaries have discovered that they must round out the look they want with porcelains. He finds there is a strong market currently for both Oriental export and antique Dutch Delft.
The Haughtons themselves own a shop in London at 3b Burlington Gardens, Old Bond Street, where they specialize in porcelain and pottery. There is constant interest, Mr. Haughton said, in English Worcester, Derby, Bow, Chelsea, Wedgwood , Spode, Langston Hall, and Mason's Ironstone. French Sevres continues to be undervalued, he noted. But the market for 19th-century Staffordshire figures ''has gone crazy and quality pieces are now fetching astronomical prices.''
Mr. Haughton's personal collection includes German Meissen and English Derby pieces, but he said that if he had to choose one field, it would be Meissen, the first major European factory. ''The small paintings done on Meissen are stunning and executed with such finesse. They are art of exceptional quality.''