Raw Materials What is amber anyway?

What is amber anyway?

09/29/10 12:55:07 (32 comments)

by: Adam Gottschalk

Does amber even exist? Is it the distilled form of actual fossilized amber? No, most definitely not. The smell we know of as amber is entirely fictional. You see "amber" in perfume pyramids, but it's not true.


Actually, the smell is a combination of benzoin, labdanum, and vanilla; relatively precise measurements have to be made (three teaspoons benzoin, ¾-quarters teaspoon labdanum, and considerably less than ½ teaspoon of vanilla).
 
In natural perfume, it's not so fixed as in the main. I include benzoin in just about every perfume I make. I have to go out of my way to make an amber perfume. (I have only one at that, Ares.)
 


That of course doesn't include variations on amber; I have one perfume which is basically a chypre (I hate to use traditional terms for perfume, but in this case, it actually makes some sense), and in the base is tonka-bean instead of vanilla (Daphne).

To my nose, it smells like an amber perfume with the addition of tonka-bean; most people have no idea what exactly is in the perfume; that's one of the considerable downsides to being a natural perfumer—everything in the olfactory world becomes plainer and plainer.
 

Eden Botanicals offers, for example, amber products; Eden Botanicals is one of four or five suppliers I work with—the owner, Will Lapaz, is someone I trust with supplying my business, a person who is, I'm happy to say, very trustworthy. That's for true perfume supplies, not amber products.

But, even with the amber essence, he tells you what's in there: amber essence extract, premium dark amber extract, sandalwood CO2, rock-rose resin (just another name for labdanum), patchouli essential oil, vetiver essential oil, sunflower oil, and jojoba oil. That's just to make amber essence oil.

Even with amber essence, Will has this to say: "Amber Essence is an alchemical blend of sacred oils, powders and resins that is sensually enticing, calming to the mind, and helpful in preparing for meditation or contemplation. Amber was originally created as a mood–enhancing formula by an ayurvedic physician, but quickly found its way into popular use as a natural perfume." I'd rather use my own amber formula (which comes originally from Mandy Aftel's Essence & Alchemy, though I've managed to mangle it, so to speak).

To be honest, it sort of irks me that they would sell such flimsy aromatic material. They've got the highest-quality botanical absolutes, CO2 extracts, essential oils, etc. And they'd like to sell amber products alongside the high-grade essential oils? They are in very different parts of the site, but I mean, really, people see amber essence oil and they assume it actually exists. Not as a single essence, it doesn't; only as in the above formula. However, he must do good business; "amber products" are on equal footing with "pure essential oils."

I don't have to use any amber products; it's no skin off my nose if others want be taken in. In truth, I see a link on Eden Botanicals web site for amber soap-making supplies; that has to be the best use for "amber" I've yet seen. In fact, more power to those who want to believe there's natural amber essence on the market. No doubt, that's an order of magnitude better than any synthetic.

                         Yours in fragrant delight,


Author: Adam Gottschalk
My final frontier as an artist is Natural Perfume, the highest art. I've been making natural perfume for about five years, and have just acquired the title Professional Perfumer from the Natural Perfumers Guild.

I have traveled extensively and speak several languages. I am a poet, playwright, and novelist, but I am broadly experienced in many arts. I am a hedonist, an idealist, and a rabble rouser.
 

Images: vetiver by David Monniaux (wikipedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 



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Elianna
Elianna

Thank you for sharing this message!

Jul
27
2013
SorceressOfTheDark
SorceressOfTheDark

As Matt Oldham said, there is an odor associated with amber to collectors of antiques. To test amber or true amber jewelry, we take a needle that is red hot and stick it into an unobtrusive piece of the resin and smell it. The odor that is produced is quite distinctive and tells us if the piece is true amber.
But I cannot see melting amber just for perfume. I can see duplicating or creating a synthetic just as a synthetic ambergris has now been created. That is logistical in our world for today.

Jul
26
2013
Ben's Aldehyde
Ben's Aldehyde

"They've got the highest-quality botanical absolutes, CO2 extracts, essential oils, etc. And they'd like to sell amber products alongside the high-grade essential oils? They are in very different parts of the site, but I mean, really, people see amber essence oil and they assume it actually exists."

I doubt the customers are that easily fooled. I wasn't, and I'm not especially knowledgeable. There's certainly no intent to deceive: the blends are all labeled as such.

Thanks for the amber recipe. I will try it.

Jul
26
2013
Thoth-Hermes
Thoth-Hermes

Just to add to what Adam has said about "Amber" it is my understanding that there are maybe five applications of the word "amber" to substances associated with Perfumery. But before I expand on this I just wanted to tell Oceanbreeze that Iris fragrance is solvent-extracted from the dried roots of Iris florentina, Iris germanica, and maybe Iris pallida. It is in no way derived from the lovely flowers. Iris concrete, absolute, and resinoid are extracted after the roots have been left to dry for several years. It is during this period that the naturally-occurring chemical Irone develops. Needless to say Iris concrete is prohibitively expensive, the price being driven by the Irone content. It is an exquisitely beautiful aromatic.

But getting back to AMBER:

1) Originally there was ambergris: the substance formed in the tummy of the sperm whale and released to the ocean after the whale's carcass has rotted, as Adam has explained.
2) Then there is Amber as in the Baltic fossilised tree resin, discussed eloquently by Adam.
3) I do believe that there in fact IS an oil distilled from this fossilised gum-resin. I have seen it offered by perfumery raw material suppliers but I have never personally encountered it. I understand that is very expensive. Here in Australia FPI Oceania carry this oil.
4) Then there are "Amber" or "Ambre" perfume COMPOUNDS created by the perfumer for use as ingredients in further fragrances or for use as it is on their own. I have maybe a dozen or more Amber bases/compounds in my library/organ-room. They incorporate far more than merely Benzoin, Vanilla, and Cistus/Labdanum, though these of course are key elements. I use Vanillin & Ethyl Vanillin, Ambrox, Fixateur 505, Grisambrol, synthetic musks, Clary Sage absolute, Cedramber, Andrane, Opoponax oil... this list is endless, but whatever I use it must harmonise with the over-all Amber accord. Ambers are such beautiful compounds and are hugely popular.
5) Finally, Solid Amber compound. A softish, crystalline mass, yellow to dark brown in colour, crumbly, and with the aroma of the gods themselves! Just heaven. It is often sold in New Age/hippy shops under some fanciful name/description, often in beautifully carved tiny wooden boxes. Here I am stumped because I simply do not know what it actually is, and I would love to know! (Hence my tuppence-worth in this convo). Many years ago, circa 1975, I worked as a perfume compounder for Bush Boake Allen (part of my training as a perfumer). In the compounding room we had a large rectangular red tin containing this delightful material and labelled as "Amber Oriental (Compound)". So although it may have been a rather strange aromatic compound (being solid: most base compounds are liquid) it was certainly used in perfume compositions manufactured by BBA. The better ones of course! I was permitted to take with me a very small sample of Amber Oriental which I have to this day. It still smells absolutely scrumptious! But to this day I really have no idea what it actually is. I suspect it is a perfume compound made from lots of crystalline powders (Cedrol, Coumarin, Vanillin, various Musks, etc, together with small amounts of some potent essential oils and resinoids. But I wonder if anyone has a real clue as to what this substance actually is?

Mar
26
2013
Matt Oldham
Matt Oldham

In any case real fossil amber should be used in perfumery. It should. It should.

It should.

Because it is one of the best smells it is possible to imagine. Burn some or stick a hot needle into and check it out. Surely the process of dissolving and keeping the scent intact is impossible or too expensive; to ignore such a material would be insane.

Feb
06
2012
maria-clara
maria-clara

For years I could not grasp what this thing amber really was. Then I figured out that in my language (Dutch) the exact same word "amber" means two totally different things. One meaning is the transparent brown fossilized stuff, the other meaning is secretion of a whale species, which is called 'ambergris' in other languages. Actually, the greyish lump I got from a friend 22 years ago appeared to be ambergris. It smells earthy, warm, pleasant to my nose. Although I didn't know what it was at the time (it looked to me like a lump of grey hasjiesj) I had kept it all these years in a tiny metal box. I use this lump as a perfume by rubbing it on my wrists, or for layering, rubbing the ambergris first, and then spraying a light perfume over it. According to some of my students from the Middle-East and Northern Africa, ambergris was used in Moskee and Synagoge in specific rituals. Still curious if that is correct, or just another confusion about amber and ambergris (and maybe frankincense or myrrh). There is another word in my language for the fossilized material mentioned in this article: "barnsteen" meaning burn(-ing)stone. And I discovered another meaning for the word amber in my language (possibly also in other languages?): the color orange-yellow.

The lump of ambergris I cherish so much, might be Indian amber resin. However my "lump" does not look in color or shape like pictures of Indian amber resin on the net at all. It really looks like ambergis. However, I want to compare it personally, and order some raw materials to be sure.

I always assumed, as many others, that the 'fossilized' amber, is odourless. Apparently this is not correct. Allthough I have no personal experience yet, I read on another website that this fossilized amber, when burned, does smell like pine. After a short period of time the scent of pine goes, and after that it just smells like something is burning. I didn't try this out myself (yet).

Feb
06
2012
da_markos
da_markos

so ambergris in perfumes was just fairy tale?

Jan
26
2012
Scentszilla
Scentszilla

This article is somewhat misleading. Which only helps fuel the misunderstanding already abundant concerning the use of the amber note in perfumery. The amber accord you get in perfumery, was originally trying to recreate the rare sweet warm animalic smell of aged ambergris. NOT the small of botanical crystalised amber (which has no actual scent of its own).
The French have tried to differentiate the two by naming "ambergris", or ambre gris, grey amber (ambre=amber gris=grey). Whilst they name botanical crystalised "amber" - yellow amber (i.e. Ambre Jaune).
The chief constituent of ambergris responsible for it's scent is ambrein. Which they now isolate something that smells similar from Clary Sage and Labdanum.

Jan
25
2012
candy-datura
candy-datura

Maybe you take the "Amber" note from the "Animal sources" section on the "NOTES" page and put it into "Resins and balsams"? Just to stop confusing.

Jan
24
2012
meshary007
meshary007

Hi everyone

Yes Real Amber come from whale and hard to get in our area "middle east".

Amber or as we call it anber "عنبر" will not be sold to people in anywhere only for sultan or shehk and there special community . But some people manage to find it .

The best anber in our culture is "AL-ashhab AL-qawy" AND "AL-azraq" .

Any way the smell is bold and dark but good and as one of shahk son's told me about Amber it makes the parfume longer lasting and eliminate alcohol odor .

Other uses protect from magic increase your sexability
and help prevent braine damage .

Nov
30
2011
naheed
naheed

@thaocrockett: here Adam refers to Amber. Both Amber and Ambergris are two different notes in perfumery.

Nov
29
2011
thaocrockett
thaocrockett

ok, I am confused. Could someone here please tell me if it's Amber or Ambergris in the case of Pierre Balmain Ambre Gris. I saw the icon of Ambergris in its note section, but a member told me it was amber. Thanks :)

Nov
29
2011
Hayven
Hayven

You're thinking of ambergris, pbandabby.

Nov
29
2011
pbandabby@gmail.com
pbandabby@gmail.com

um with amber gives me a headache. thought it was based on whale intestinal fluid.

Nov
29
2011
Pierina
Pierina

How very intersting!
I had wondered where amber came from.. It is one of my favoutite components if not my favourite.
I also very much like the ingredients required to make the magic amber potion.
I thought it would be hard going extracting that scent from tree sap.
Thank you For the article Adam.

Jun
30
2011
nargis
nargis

Thank you, Adam, for all the information. I would also like to thank Will from Eden Botanicals for the info on his distilled himalayan amber oil and Jeca for clarifying the term "amber". Because what is referred to as "amber" is considered such a perfume basic I think it is really important to understand that not every amber recipe is the same and using different ambers will, of course, give different results. I know of one perfumer whose signature amber is very nice alone but when used in combination with other ingredients creates magic as a bass note (notes) and almost serves as a signature of that perfumer.

Jun
28
2011
MSp
MSp

Jeca had it right, Adam didn't:
The "Amber" used in perfumes is not what you described above - old merchants confused "Amber" with "Ambra" (Ambergris, or grey amber).
They thought it was also a fossilized tree resin - as is the case with the golden amber used in jewelry.

Jan
08
2011
oceanbreeze
oceanbreeze

I love perfumes with amber and it never crossed my mind that it had something to do with fossilized amber. It was about the rich golden brown colour. I believe that all fragrances with amber have that colour. Just like white musk is not from the natural deer musk or from a plant.
Even iris scent. I smelled so many irises and they are so different. Some do not smell at all. Others smell awfull. Irises have many different scents. I love irises - they are gorgeous! If someone says:"It smells like iris." I want to ask:"What iris?" Perhaps it just smells like the violet root.

Oct
03
2010
Flora55
Flora55

Adam, thanks for the clarification! As an amateur perfume lover, I can recognize an "ambery" perfume, but knowing what makes it so has always been a mystery. It's too bad that both perfumers and suppliers try to enshroud it in such mystery for the public. Your explanation and expose' is the best one I have seen.

Oct
02
2010
gypsy parfumista
gypsy parfumista

When I was in college I had an 'amber box': a sheshamwood box with holes all over it and a golden grainy resinous substance inside...It smelled wonderful and that to me (and my nose) is true amber-it must be the above combination of ingredients...

Often I see grey amber (ambergris is illegal I know, but ambroxan is not)listed among perfume notes,and as I sniff my way through new scents; I can only refer to what my nose knows-but now my brain knows what was really in that box!

Amber used in jewelery is very hard (like a stone)and I always wondered how they got an essence from a stone...

Thank you, Adam for your enlightening article. I love knowing about all the raw materials in perfumes, and I learned something from you today!!

EDIT: Just so you members know, Adam has his own line of scents-Lord's Jester, and all of them are natural and unisex and based on Greek Mythology...how wonderful is that?

I went to the website and I had some problems reading some things, and the e-mail link to Adam is not working; so, I called the store at 9am on a Saturday and Adam, himself answered!...HE IS SO GREAT, and really personable and friendly...you should check these out. I ordered samples of his fragrances and cannot wait to try them and review them on here!

Sep
30
2010
SedNonSatiata
SedNonSatiata

Thank you, Adam!

This is a topic that interests me a great deal. I finally smelled and touched real ambergris, and have also talked to several perfumers about the "amber accord" blend of notes (totally different from natural ambergris or synthetic copies thereof) on which the traditional oriental perfume (parfum ambré) is built. [Not to mention ambrette which smells like musk , but I digress...]

You have gotten right to the trickiest part of all this: statements about amber and ambergris that appear on various sites-- some advertising essential oils-- and that give vague, misleading, incorrect, or confusing information.

Many of them suggest that what we all recognize as amber accord (that tonka, benzoin, etc., blend) can be found in one single fossilized resin oil.

Some of those sites (*not* Eden Botanicals--I'm not criticizing them) even describe ambergris and amber accord as being the same thing and claim to sell a natural version of it.

So if I get it now: there actually is a fossilized resin oil; it is not from the the sort of fossilized resin used in jewelry; and it has an odor, but the odor is not the one we associate with amber accord. Though it can be made to smell like amber accord if blended with other oils. Whew.

Sep
30
2010
VeroniqueLeon
VeroniqueLeon

Thank you for the interesting and very informative article!

I'm happy to learn more about usage of Amber in the perfumery.I didn't know that Amber note is in fact Labdanum+Benzoin+Vanilla combination.

I'm already looking forward to reading about other ingredients and details of perfume making from a professional perfumer.

Sep
30
2010
naheed
naheed

I only knew through National geographic channel that in rural parts of Africa,women wear amber in jewellery and adorn their hair with it. It's very interesting to learn that amber in perfume pyramids is basically the combination of benzoin, labdanum and vanilla.

Sep
30
2010
Fashionista2
Fashionista2

Very interesting article on amber Adam.
I used to wear fragrances that I believed contained the real thing, as wwell as myrhh. Lots to learn about this fascinating fragrant universe we delight in, yes? I know your name and will look you up to see what you've done. Your picture makes you appear to be a dashing matinee idol. Best.

Sep
29
2010
adamgottschalk
adamgottschalk

Thank you jeca.

Sep
29
2010
eden1A
eden1A

Hi Adam: Thanks for your interesting article! Things do change in the world of natural perfumery raw materials. Recently, after many years of research into and work with all things amber, we have found a true Fossilized Amber Oil. It is destructively distilled from Himalayan fossilized amber. Please see the information about it on our website under Pure Essential Oils: the A-B page. www.edenbotanicals.com/essential-oils-agarwood-amyris-angelica-balsam-peru-basil-bergamot.html

First I should say that I do not consider it an essential oil, but it is Fossilized Amber Oil, from one single source (not a blend). From the web page you can click the links for the COA (including the GC/MS for the oil and our Fossilized Amber Oil Profile).

Also see the 1898 treatise on Fossilized Amber Oil: www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/kings/ambra-flav.html

Regarding our other "amber" products, I am personally far more interested in the pure essential oils and yet Eden Botanicals started with amber resin from India (by the original owner), and so I have simply kept it going.

Best wishes and happy blending!
Will, Eden Botanicals

Sep
29
2010
giokathleen@mail.ru
giokathleen@mail.ru

Great article, Adam Gottschalk! Read it smoothly! Great job!

Sep
29
2010
jeca
jeca

Friends, here is a quote from wikipedia about these two ambers - amber and ambergris:

"The English word amber derives from the Arabic 'anbar, via Medieval Latin ambar and Old French ambre. The word originally referred to a precious oil derived from the Sperm whale (now called ambergris). The sense was extended to fossil resin circa 1400, and this became the main sense as the use of ambergris waned.[3] The two substances were confused because they both were found washed up on beaches. Ambergris is lighter than water and floats; whereas amber is lighter than stone, but not light enough to float.[4] The word "ambar" was brought to Europe by the Crusaders. In French "ambre gris" was then distinguished from "ambre jaune": ambre gris was ambergris; ambre jaune was the fossil resin we now call amber."

Adam disproved the myth that the amber note is distilled or extracted from amber (fossilized tree resin) to be part of a perfume. Amber doesn't exist as one certain note, and plants (along with many synthetic ingredients, as ambroxan, etc) are the most common source to create amber as we imagine it.

Ambergris is too expensive to be used in modern perfumes.

Sep
29
2010
zoka
zoka

Just to copy discussion from Facebook link I found it interesting:

Ed Shepp: "The article seems to ignore the whole spectrum of "amber" that people speak about when referring to ambergris-type odors. Ambergris, ambroxan, ambrocenide, Grisalva, Okoumal..."



Adam Gottschalk: "Have you smelled raw ambergris? It smells like a horse-barn. It smells _nothing_ like "amber" as we commonly know it, that slightly sweet balsamic odor. Ambergris is definitely not the same stuff as amber. Ambergris is _definitely_ not the same as amber, not even close. Amber is sweet and balsamic; it smells nothing like a horse-barn."

Sep
29
2010
juliane
juliane

wow, a really good article, I didn't know that before!

Sep
29
2010
jeca
jeca

Dear Adam, thank you very much for your explanation about amber, it's really a beautiful legend of using golden amber fossils in perfumes.

In my place there is a lot of labdanum (cistus), I see it everywhere and I do love the scent when I am passing by labdanum bushes.

I'd like to know more about other ingredients you use in creating natural perfumes ;o)

Sep
29
2010

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