The chronicle of the 20th century is teeming with tales of notable endeavour, all motivated by a relentless desire to push the boundaries of human achievement further and further. When discussing such accomplishments there are certain names that quickly spring to mind: the Wright brothers completing the first sustained, powered flight in 1903; Yuri Gagarin being the first human in space in 1961; and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the Moon in 1969.
Perhaps less well-known (although no less remarkable) are Brian Jones and Bertrand Picard who, in 1999, made the first uninterrupted circumnavigation of the earth in a balloon.
Since 1981 there have been 21 failed attempts to make the complete flight around-the-world, including Richard Branson's effort which ended dramatically in December 1998 with a crash in the Atlantic Ocean. Jones and Picard were to begin their adventure the following year and on 21st March 1999 aboard the Breitling Orbiter 3, they became the undisputed winners of a race that had lasted almost 20 years.
After months of tireless preparation, these intrepid pioneers started their journey at 0805hrs on Monday 1st March, departing from Château-d'Oex in the Swiss Alps and finally coming to rest again almost 20 days later in Egypt at 0600hrs on Sunday 21st March.
Their balloon was of the Rozière variety, which combines the qualities of both a hot-air balloon and a gas balloon. The gondola was made of a mix of Kevlar and carbon fibre to ensure it was extremely durable, yet light. During the flights, Jones explains that the crew and craft had to become 'part of the wind' as they carefully worked to harmonize themselves with the ever-changing conditions. This proved necessary, as successful circumnavigation depended on correctly negotiating the weather.
The entire expedition was sponsored by the watch brand Breitling – the obvious choice considering their pedigree in manufacturing instruments for aviation professionals. Their contribution included providing each of the avid balloonists with their own watch, perfectly suited to the job in hand. The timepiece they received was the Breitling Emergency - an instrument watch with a built-in micro transmitter allowing rescuers to locate one's position following a crash or forced landing.
With a plethora of new world records to their names, Jones and Picard returned to a hero's welcome but have since slipped somewhat from the public spotlight, perhaps as a result of their difficulty in reconciling the differences between the 'extremes of fortune' which they contemplated during their journey.
Instead of seeking fame, they chose to use their success to help benefit those less fortunate than themselves and in September 1999 they established the Winds of Hope foundation.
Winds of Hope spearheads the funding of initiatives that battle a disease called Noma – an acute gangrenous infection of the face. Affecting mainly children living in sub-Saharan Africa and the product of poor oral hygiene and a number of other factors, Noma progresses rapidly and has a shocking 90% mortality rate.
Therefore, Fellows are pleased to offer the Breitling Emergency that Brian Jones wore during his adventure which, like the envelope that carried them aloft, is truly a piece of aviation history. It will appear in the Vintage & Modern Wrist Watches sale on Monday 23rd July with an estimate of £5,000 – £7,000.