Raw Materials Amber and Ambergris are Two Different Notes

Amber and Ambergris are Two Different Notes

02/12/12 11:10:42 (45 comments)

by: Naheed Shoukat Ali



It is always confusing when Amber, which is also one of the most important fragrance families,  is discussed in fragrances. It gets even more confusing when the terms Amber and Ambergris make their ways in. Amber, also known as Fossilised Amber, comes from plant resin and is a fantasy note in fragrances, while on the other hand, Ambergris is an animal source which is excreted by some species of sperm whales. Both are two entirely different notes and with respect to their fragrances descriptions there's a marked difference between them.
 

AMBERGRIS

Ambergris: "Grey Amber" in French 

Source: Excreted by some species of sperm whale Physeter catodon. 

Color: gray to black 

Fragrance profile of fresh ambergris: 
Smells of fecal matter

Fragrance profile of aged ambergris: Salty, musky, sweet with a hint of tobacco leaf, leather-like and possesses an animalic marine scent.

   Photo by Peter Kaminski

Since, perfumers can explain it better when it comes to fragrance notes, It is worth learning what Perfumers Anya McCoy, Mandy Aftel and Abdussalaam Attar shared in their thoughts on this subject.


Perfumer Anya McCoy says: "I have used ambergris in many of my perfumes. I have some tinctures that are eight years old. The scent of ambergris varies according to the type it is, as there are many grades with different scents. Mostly it is described as marine, hay, slightly fecal, warm, creamy. And the scent of it is only part of the equation: more important is the transformative properties it brings to the perfume formula. It 'marries' and exalts the other aromatics in a way no other substance does. The ambergris doesn't even have to be perceptible in the perfume. "

Perfumer Mandy Aftel shares, "Ambergris is a waste product from whales. I have sampled 9 different types of ambergris and the freshest and blackest has a very strong fecal note. I also have pieces that are over 60 years old and they are sparkling amber notes with animal undertones. It's transformative. There's a shimmering quality to it. It reflects light with its smell. It's like an olfactory gemstone."

As per perfumer Abdussalaam Attar: "Ambergris is a pheromone molecule, and is traditionally used in ayurveda and unani medecine as are used other pheromones such as muskdeer, civet and castoreum. Civet and ambergris are like the smell of a woman. Because of its very high price, Ambergris is nearly not used anymore in perfumery, where it has been replaced by the synthetic molecule ambreina."
 

AMBERGRIS, also referred to as "grey amber" in French, is a gray to black, flammable substance which looks like lumps which can be as small as a ball and as big as the size of a head. Produced in the hindgut of some species of Sperm whale Physeter catodon. Formation of ambergris in the gut of the sperm whale is attributed to a secretion produced in response to the constant irritation caused by the sharp beaks of squids and cuttlefish and  their indigestible parts, or perhaps is produced simply as a means of protection against the damage caused by them, and is periodically excreted. It is thought to be a pathological process but this is just an assumption. It was a highly valued material for its medicinal, aphrodisiac and fragrant properties even in the ancient times.

Fresh ambergris is black, semiviscous and almost smells of fecal matter and is of no value in perfumery. But as it is aged through years of exposure to sunlight, air and the ocean, it oxidizes and hardens to a pleasantly aromatic substance which is found floating on the surface of the sea. It is used chiefly in perfumery as a tincture for fixing delicate odors, and is said to have extraordinary sillage. It is almost completely volatile by heat, insoluble in water or in alkali hydroxides but soluble in hot alcohol, volatile oils, chloroform, fats and ether.


Accordng to a source, 
"In 1820 two French chemists, Joseph-Bienaimé Carentou and Pierre-Joseph Pelletier first isolated, characterized and named ambrein, the principal active fragrant ingredient of ambergris. Since then a great deal has been published on the chemistry of compounds with an ambergris-like scent, especially the more fragrant oxidative derivatives of ambrein like ambrox. They are all labdanoid terpenes which occur in a remarkable variety of plants, animals and microorganisms. Sources like Monarda didyma L. (bee-balm, a source of labdanum extract) are a natural substitute for ambergris and Cistus ladanifer L. is a classical source of labdanum. These and other botanical extracts are the base for fixatives and woody, sweet fragrances in the modern perfumery industry which, for the most part, uses synthetics in place of natural substances."
 

   Cistus (Labdanum)

Since, ambergris is expensive and rare, what is mostly used in fragrances are the synthetic substitutes. Talking of its chemical constituents, three major components isolated from ambergris are the triterpene alcohol ambrein, epicoprostanol and coprostanone. Ambrein is a principal active ingredient of ambergris and smells sweet with hints of caramel and tobacco. It is used in accords with musks, animalic notes and woods. On the other hand, ambrox or ambroxan is a sweet, woody and musky note. Salt is another aspect in fragrances with respect to ambergris, which captures the bright and fresh feel of the sea in the heart of which ambergris is nurtured.

In perfumes we encounter the sweet, animalic and salty facets of ambergris, and fragrances that you can find according to that are:


Ambre Russe, Classique, Quel Amour - Ambrien 

D&G Light Blue, Calypso, Portrait of a lady - Ambroxan 

Eau des Merveilles, Muscs Kublai Khan - Salty aspect
 


AMBER

Amber also known as Fossilised Amber  

Source: Fossilised resin of Pinus succinifera and other trees 

Color: golden brown, orange, yellow, red, green, brown, white, blue and black.  

Fragrance Profile: Amber is a fantasy note in perfumery which has been mostly inspired by its golden color and is a basic accord of labdanum, benzoin and vanilla. This accord may vary.

Talking of amber, it's a time-hardened resin of Pinus succinifera and other trees. In perfumery it is a fantasy note that is primarily inspired by the resin's golden color and brilliance. Not coming from  the real resin, it is a rather basic accord of labdanum, vanilla and benzoin which adds sweetness and warmth to fragrances and this is mostly used in oriental, chypre and fougère compositions.

According to perfumer Abdussalaam Attar, "In perfumery all sweet resinous things are amber note, you can count in them Tonka, Peru Balsam, Tolu Balsam, Benzoin, Labdanum and cistus for example. You may add to blends of these scents subtle notes of Almond, tobacco, vanilla for instance. Amber in perfumery is a subjective scent, it is a note, not an essence."

Mandy Aftel shares her recipe of Amber from her book Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfume page 97.  
"Here is a recipe for a very beautiful and simple amber that can be worn alone or used a base for a perfume:


30 drops labdanum, 
120 drops benzoin, 
6 drops vanilla
 

Before you can measure the labdanum, you will probably need to heat it up so that it will flow; set the bottle of resin in a small bowl of very hot water (just boiled) until it liquefies. Then measure the drops into a small bottle and add the benzoin and vanilla. Secure the bottle cap tightly and shake to mix. Label this bottle Amber."

A very common and classical source in amber based fragrances is Labdanum Cistus ladanifer which is also said to be used in ambergris based scents. Another well known base is Ambré 83 (perfumeprojects.com) which is used to get that illuminating gold-like sweetness.

Here are some fragrance recommendations that capture the rich sweetness of amber. In Amber Oudh the darkness of oudh brightens up with the sweet brilliance of amber beautifully. On the other hand, Mitsouko has a sweet classical touch of amber and DKNY Gold is just perfect with its sweet woody touch of amber.




Author: Naheed Shoukat Ali (naheed)
Fragrantica Writer

 

 

 


 


 

 



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matty64
matty64

Hey, @Perabona, never apologize for your nationality. You are what you are, you had no control over this. Be proud of your Italian-French heritage. I really found this article informative. I realize this may be a tad bit late but I'm surprised no one mentioned that the pictures of whales shown are humpback whales not sperm whales.

Jun
14
2014
perabona
perabona

Sorry but just an extra add. Ambergris do not stand really for french translating of grey amber. In fact in french Ambergris is said Ambre gris. Ambergris is just one of these strange english words mixed with some "rafinate" french words of luxury world. By the way and having said that i dont understand why they use the words "excuse my french" when they say ... you know what. But may be just because i'm italo-french, and sorry for that :-). Ok i'm leaving, but not without telling you like somebody upper than I too, very much appreciate your in-depth work.

Jun
13
2014
hadir
hadir

Interesting article and comments. Thank you.

Mar
18
2013
Salaam
Salaam

Tincturing a 150 million years old aromatic raw material.
The report on how to tincture fossil amber is ready at the page:
profumo it/perfume/ambergris/fossil_amber_tincture htm
(copy and paste in browser adding the dots)

Jun
03
2012
SNOOPY
SNOOPY

Thank you for another educational article.It is about time someone pointed this fact out,lest the confusion.

Jun
02
2012
muncierobson
muncierobson

that was really helpful, i wondered how a rock could smell of anything and understand the difference between that and whale jizz! thank you!

Jun
02
2012
naheed
naheed

@Salaam, Thank you very much for your input and your knowledge has always been of very help to broaden my learning.

May
31
2012
Salaam
Salaam

You are right. Calming down is best. I was a bit upset from the way Naheed was treated by some readers.
I have a lot of fossil amber from the Baltic. I shall tincture some of it and make available a photo report about it. In such a way we shall make sure the truth about the smell of fossil amber in perfumery.Is it existing or not.
Eden botanical has a good reputation, but as everyone they can make mistake trusting wrong people.
I cannot attempt to make a co2 extract, not having the technology, or the feasibility of such an extraction could also have been ascertained.

May
31
2012
Isobutyl
Isobutyl

After reading recent issues on fossil amber vs ambergris, I purchased fossil amber in Poland and I tinctured the material. The smell is pleasant as incense, not a lemony taste, and the light smell of rubber is compatible with the resin and not by burning. It's all in all a wonderful material. Mr. Salaam, you criticizes only because You have not this good material on sales available in your online site, everyone know this reason: but you could do serious testing before speaking (not with chinese amber please!). Your ambergris? I know it, and I know the dyeing of fossil amber, a material that is different, but very nice. Please stop saying that only you have ever the best and good things of the earth (in your shop online).
And now you are against Eden Botanical-s? Please, calm down and check what you say.

May
31
2012
Salaam
Salaam

As for Eden Botanical, a fossil amber:
1) Extracted with CO2
2) origin China
3) Wild harvest
is totally ludicrous. They certainly cannot tell you how they did it because it is impossible to do such a thing.

May
31
2012
Salaam
Salaam

Naheed, your article is saying the truth.

Whoever says that fossil amber has a smell without being heated or that fossil amber can be tinctured has done his experiments with something else than real fossil amber.

For precision, while working fossil amber to polish it or shape it, the smell comes out and it is lemony.
if you burn the ambergris, the smell is not at all of rubber, but a bit rubbery incensy, more rubbery than incensy. Not resinous at all.

The making of a perfume from fossil resin is a myth, and is entirely false, although fossil Amber has been used in europe as incense (in powder) for medical purpose and as a vibrational therapy.

May
31
2012
lapolli
lapolli

thank you, now I can say I understand a lot more. Precious article, I am going to save it for my personal library!

Mar
11
2012
mseidoom
mseidoom

Nice article. Thanks Naheed. :-)

Mar
11
2012
naheed
naheed

Jicky, that's why I have quoted Both Mandy and Abdussalaam and personally talked with them especially for this article about the use of amber in fragrances. Secondly, I have never refused to say that the smell of real amber doesn't exist. But what is mostly used in fragrances as fossilized amber note is an accord not the real one and that's why I have said it's a fantasy note and it's not my personal opinion, it's a general opinion. Anya McCoy uses the amber which she buys from Eden Botanicals and currently, according to them, they extract pure amber essence from fossilized amber resins. You are right a raw material should be tested before writing about it that's why I haven't written a word about the fragrance of the real amber only those can tell who have tested and used it as well. The most I know from the amber resin I have is that it's woody, resinous and pleasant but this isn't enough to write about it.

Being a resin amber does possess smell but unless it is extracted it is light and there's a certain type which is being used for extarction at the moment.I am just looking forward to Eden Botanicals' reply to write about it in detail as what is their procedure and all that. Hope you understand my point.

No offenses to anyone please. Especially, mochus and Jicky:)

Mar
10
2012
Jicky
Jicky

A raw material should be checked, if you want to talk about it. Mandy Aftel or Dubrana or Moschus speaking of things tested? I confirm that the raw fossil amber often has a very pleasant smell, it seems that the less attractive are the African and American, European deposits are perhaps the best botanical species from which the fossil resins.
I do not think the term amber is nothing more than to be referred to ambergris and amber fossil. Mixtures of benzoin are modern fantasies for "amber" (term).
You write of amber fossils: "In perfumery it is a fantasy That note is primarily inspired by the resin's golden color and brilliance".
This is completely false. Try a small amount of European fossil amber in dye (tincture), you'll know you've written things that do not know. And perhaps other "experts" to reduce their opinions without trying very material, in this confusing world of fragrances is easy, but it is very depressing.
It is also advisable to avoid copying and pasting opinions on the net. The risk is that 3 or 4 ideas, possibly wrong, become "truth" just because repeated.

Mar
10
2012
moschus
moschus

It is not only a medicinal tincture is a really good scent. Resinous, sometimes reminiscent of myrrh. There is no question as to reduce to arrangements of little value, AbdesSalaam Attar described the fossil amber as burnt rubber. Amber that I know do not know him, I tried raw amber fossil of the Baltic and the smell was already interesting and pleasing before dyeing!

Mar
10
2012
naheed
naheed

Mochus, you can't say it all of a sudden that the article is ignorant. Most perfumers use an accord for amber notes in fragrances. Please read carefully the recipe by Mandy Aftel in this article and then come to a conclusion this fast. Second, I also know that Eden Botanicals is the company that currently deals in pure amber essential oils. I am also aware that it has been used in medicine since time and around. I am trying to contact Eden Botanicals as soon as I get a reply from them I will do an article with them. Hope you understand that.

Mar
10
2012
Alchimiste
Alchimiste

Excellent article Naheed! As usual from you...

Mar
10
2012
LunaPearl
LunaPearl

Fantastic and intruiging article Naheed !

although the description of Ambergris (how its obtained and the fragrance notes) sounds disgusting, it really does give an insight into how Ambergris plays a vital part in perfumery.
My only concern is that I'll never be able to smell the real thing (along with Musk).






Judging by the photo above - If Ambergris were to wash up onto the shore, Id walk past it thinking it was plain old rocks!

Feb
27
2012
njdeb
njdeb

Excellent article Naheed! I think another example of ambergris, as opposed to amber, is in Balmain Ambre Gris. I always thought that was supposed to be an amber perfume, but never thought it smelled very ambery. Now that I know the difference between amber and ambergris, I understand that perfume better. It really has that salty, almost marine, aspect to it that you mentioned. Great information!

Feb
14
2012
stelladoro
stelladoro

A fascinating and well written article. I love the warmth and lustre of amber jewelry, and know ambergris comes from sperm whales. However, I wasn't clear on exactly what an amber note is. Your explanation of amber as a 'fantasy note' is clear, concise and welcome. I would be interested in an article exploring fantasy notes. Excellent article, thank you!

Feb
14
2012
candy-datura
candy-datura

I can't get the database seriously. For example, "Rocky Mountain Wood" by Dsquared. Amber resin among base notes? Really?

Feb
13
2012
naheed
naheed

Candy, with respect to database? Didn't get your question really.

Edit: Fragrantica is working on that and Zoka has already said (scroll down). :)

dear mnaonfrag, yes, I know about Eden Botanicals and I am considering to contact them so probably you will see an article in future, Inshallah.

Feb
13
2012
candy-datura
candy-datura

And where is this "amber" note (resinous) really presented?

Feb
13
2012
cshekhar
cshekhar

Really Good and differentiation of these two awesome.

Thanks

Feb
13
2012
mnaonfrag
mnaonfrag

Naheed, thank you for your work here. However, I dispute the claim that amber is a "fantasy note" (a.k.a, a concept note or an accord). Although that may have been exclusively true in the past, it is no longer so. In fact, the company Eden Botanicals has recently begun to offer a single-note Fine Perfumery Grade Fossilized Amber Oil (this is not an *essential* oil, since there is no such thing for amber). This single-note amber oil is derived from the distillation and refining of true amber resin. Read more at Eden Botanicals' website, whose URL I cannot publish here because my review will not post. (Incidentally, your article's source on ambergris, the perfumer Anya McCoy, obtains at least some of her extracts from Eden Botanicals. This fact is made clear in the "Botanicals" section of her own website.)

Feb
13
2012
naheed
naheed

Thank you all for your liking the article!!

@Mandy, I must tell the readers here that your input has been of great value in this article. And I also thank Anya and Abdussalaam for their valuable help.

@Elena V., I am glad to read your comment. It's Calypso by Piguet. Thank you for pointing it out! :)

Feb
13
2012
habshini
habshini

thank you nahed very nice and great article.

Feb
13
2012
ANGELICA07
ANGELICA07

WONDERFUL job : this article was a need !! :)
Thanks !

Feb
13
2012
aftelier
aftelier

I’m honored to be included in your great article Naheed – so enlightening! I appreciate your in-depth focus on these historic ingredients, and your kind mention of my book. For me, perfume is all about using the best possible ingredients, from the familiar warmth of labdanum to the magical mystery of ambergris.
Mandy

Feb
13
2012
Elena Vosnaki
Elena Vosnaki

Nicely worked on Naheed; just one question: by Calypso in the list of fragrances containing Ambroxan, which perfume are you refering to? The Christian Celle ones (which?), the St.Barth or the Piguet? I'd be really interested to find out something I might have missed.

Feb
13
2012
vigilante_squirrel
vigilante_squirrel

Excellent article, and thought-provoking too! Clears up a lot of confusion and also provides some new avenues to explore on both amber and ambergris. Thank you, Naheed -- great work and very enjoyable to read!

Feb
13
2012
AmberLove
AmberLove

Great job, Naheed!
I love Amber based scents!!!

Feb
13
2012
rod7elfo
rod7elfo

Naheed, pretty great to know and understand this. Thanks

Feb
12
2012
BANGOTIGO
BANGOTIGO

thank you so much Naheed i did not know that one of the most beautiful sea creature i love is also the source of such a wonderful scent.

Feb
12
2012
howard jarvis
howard jarvis

Thank you Naheed for another great article. It always help us perfumers to increase the knowlegde of our customers and clear up any confusion. We make an ambergris tincture from the "balls" washed up on New Zealand beaches (thanks to the whales who vomit it up) and use it in our perfumes. It has such a rich intensity that is hard to describe. Great work and thanks again. Howard Jarvis, Bud Parfums.

Feb
12
2012
zoka
zoka

We are working trough encyclopedia to get separated ambergris and 'amber' there might be errors in the process but we will give our best to improve it.

Feb
12
2012
NebraskaLovesScent
NebraskaLovesScent

Great article, Naheed! It helps a lot to have the descriptions from notable perfumers in there. :-)

I believe our great Fragrantica amber controversy is at last settled!

Feb
12
2012
Maeva
Maeva

Thanks for such an enlightening article, Naheed! I love these two notes and now I know where they come from. It was very interesting to learn that "amber" isn't exactly a note, but an accord resulting from the combination of three notes. Wonderful pictures too!

Feb
12
2012
Before_Sunrise
Before_Sunrise

thank you Naheed! Great article...

Feb
12
2012
da_markos
da_markos

taaa -daaa :)) finally the difference between those 2 notes. great article Naheed -as always :)

Feb
12
2012
Mr. Doody
Mr. Doody

Fantastic write-up!

Feb
12
2012
chayaruchama
chayaruchama

Lovely article, Naheed !
I very much appreciate your in-depth work...

Feb
12
2012
K1
K1

Really good, so informative article Naheed. Go ahead; I like your topics.
Thank you

Feb
12
2012

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