Le Ballon d’hydrogéne

Le Ballon d’hydrogéne

The duck, the sheep and the rooster looked down as terra firma slowly drifted away. Above them an air balloon constructed of paper and fabric provided the necessary lift to carry the animals skywards. So, on September 19th,1783 the Montgolfier brothers had launched the first hot air balloon containing live ‘passengers’. The flight lasted 15 minutes before crashing back to the ground [the animals were unharmed]. Subsequent developments in air ballooning were rapid. On December 1st, 1783 Jaques Charles and Nicolas Robert took off from the Tuileries in the first hydrogen balloon manned by humans. It was such an important development in the history of ballooning that a reported 400,000 spectators witnessed the launch. Benjamin Franklin was amongst the witnesses. The flight was successful, lasting two hours and landing safely.

This exceptionally rare gold figural pendant, circa 1783 – 1784, commemorates that inaugural flight of the first manned hydrogen balloon. It depicts Jacques Charles and Nicolas Robert in the gondola compartment of their hydrogen balloon waving flags as they begin their ascent. The pendant is 2 and 1/3 inches tall. The event was widely depicted on prints, engravings and fabrics at the time, but surviving pieces of jewellery commemorating it are virtually nonexistent.

Jacques Charles commented on their inaugural flight :
Nothing will ever quite equal that moment of total hilarity that filled my whole body at the moment of take-off. I felt we were flying away from the Earth and all its troubles forever. It was not mere delight. It was a sort of physical ecstasy. My companion Monsieur Robert murmured to me – I’m finished with the Earth. From now on it’s the sky for me! Such utter calm. Such immensity!


An 18th century print and a kerchief celebrating the inaugural flight