After the gold rush, came the rush of whale vomit…yet why is this ingredient so valuable in the perfumery world after all?
Natural Ambergris, also known commonly as Grey Amber, is a raw material that actually derives from the vomit of a sperm whale. In elaborative terms, the ambergris is produced in the digestive system of the sperm whales, during the process of intestinal irritation that whales encounter when facing difficulty digesting sharp objects, such as squid beaks.
The sperm whale will then reject this into the sea. Initially a sticky product of excrement, this substance hardens when exposed to seawater and the sun to produce what we call ‘ambergris’. Eventually floating to the surface, and later commonly collected along shores of South Africa, the East Indies, China, Japan, New Zealand, and even the coasts of England; ambergris doesn’t have a specific generic form and can be found in bulks or in small substances.
With only one percent of sperm whales able to produce viable ambergris, the rarity of this substance makes it extremely expensive! To put it into perspective, in 2016 a British couple discovered a lump of ambergris (1.57kg) during their walk on a beach in Sri Lanka, to then discover that it was in fact, a heart-stopping $70,000 of value!
Therefore, it is conclusive, that this ingredient is quite literally worth more than gold, and thus the scarcity, the exclusivity, the excitement revolving the find of this raw material, is inevitable, and explains why this substance is a true gem to perfumers!
What should you expect to smell?
Although an ingredient that every high-end perfume house desires, an iconic perfume note, it is also one that is rather difficult to illustrate in words to those who have not had the privilege of its sensual aroma. A strong smell, almost pungent, that is often described to be musky, with very animalic characteristics, and thus commonly associated with civet in Guerlain perfumery. On top of that, add a dash of woody marine notes, a slight touch of a sweet- earthy scent, and nuances of damp moss. With such a mix of scents, its exquisite yet elusive notes, means that it is the contradiction that is part of the attraction.
With our sense of smell usually working with our associations, to some the smell of ambergris can be considered even revolting, whilst to others they find it hypnotic, and are lured in, as they dissect its wonders as a perfume ingredient. Either way, the characteristics of this raw material are undeniable, and highly valuable to the perfume industry. This includes ambergris’ ability to sublimate the sexy dry down of any oriental perfume, as well as being an excellent fixative on human skin. Moreover, it is a majestic base note, that collaborates with other ingredients to perform aphrodisiac wonders, leaving a sexy trail to those that wear it.
However, to this ingredient, a tragedy is attached. Unfortunately, the sperm whale was declared an endangered species in 1970, and therefore are protected under the Wildlife Protection Act. Although there have been conflicting discussions on how the production of ambergris is a natural process, and does not harm the whale, there have been terrible cases, when whaling was widespread, and the sperm whales were specifically hunted for ambergris and other valuable products such as oil. Therefore, conclusively, the sale of ambergris is prohibited by law in most countries.
In correlation with this, the raw material is now typically replaced by synthetic materials, such as ‘Ambroxan’. Although this substance is still commonly found in extracts of big branded perfumes, there is a significant decline in its use, with most brands avoiding the use of ‘animal products’ to protect their corporate image.
A claim to fame…
An ingredient that truly has travelled through time and history, starting in ancient Egypt, where natural ambergris, one of the world’s strangest natural occurrences, had been used as a fragrance for incense. Spreading into Europe, its scent had been uniquely utilised to cover the smell of death.
Word of this elusive ingredient spread, and it is clear that we weren’t the first to be astounded by this phenomenon… Records as early as 1851, show ambergris’ claim to fame, when Herman Melville published the famous book titled “Moby Dick”. Melville devotes a chapter to a discussion of ambergris, with special attention to the irony that "fine ladies and gentlemen should regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale.” So, it has been established, ambergris truly is a treasure for the perfumery world, and with a correct blend can be devoured and enjoyed by all!
Do we need to go further in convincing you why you should use this ingredient in your next mix? Follow our recommendations on how to blend to achieve the most seductive and exciting fragrances.
Our recommendations on blending Amber at Maison 21G Our variation of ambergris, also known as AMBER AFFAIR, is something you couldn't resist to try. A light spray on the blotter, and your nose will be tantalised with a portion of seduction, a mix of warm light spices, and ozonic notes.
For those that prefer the spotlight, there is no better way, than by producing a beautiful, floriental blend, with white florals, such as Frangipani, Jasmine or Tuberose! Nobody will resist the feminine, alluring appeal you will be wearing!