Fossil amber, ambergris, amber perfume, ambregris, how many times have we read this terminology related to the world of perfumes? So many, and it's easy to get confused. It is mainly found in olfactory pyramids, in the description of a perfume or a raw material, terms that are very common and that you will come across often.
You must know that those words, although very similar, are completely different, in origin, use and very often also in their scent. So let's find out how to avoid any confusion!
Amber mentioned in so many olfactory pyramids is a general definition but one thing is for sure, it is not the fossil resin of various shades, from yellow to orange, which is used in jewelry, therefore, it has no use in the composition of a perfume.
What is ambergris and where does it come from?
Ambergris is a fragrant substance, one of the most valuable, is derived from animals. Rare, expensive and legendary ingredient, produced by the digestive system of the sperm whale.
These big cetaceans feed on cephalopod molluscs, animals provided with a corneous beak particularly indigestible and capable of burning the intestine of their predator; in order to facilitate this process, an absorbing substance secreted by the intestine itself, which hardens rapidly around the beaks of the molluscs, and turns into a solid mass able of soothing any irritation. The ambergris is expelled naturally by the whale, or, in the case of larger accumulations, is occasionally regurgitated. In both cases, solid masses are formed which, once expelled, can float aroud the ocean, undergoing a slow transformation due to the exposure to sunlight, wind and salt water. The matter is pushed by the currents, until it is found, even if this happens, which is rarely, on the coasts of the Horn of Africa and India that face the Indian Ocean.
Cetaceans and Ambergris
I would like to underline once again that the supply of ambergris does not cause the killing of these whales: some countries regulate its possession and movement within specific geographical areas.
It is not forbidden to use ambergris in perfumery, it has been almost entirely replaced by synthetic molecules, due to its high cost and irregular availability.
These whales were actually hunted until recently, because they are rich in spermaceti (spermaceti oil, among various uses, was once used to light lamps and candles).
Ambergris in perfumery
Ambergris has saline scents, of dried and sun-dried seaweed. The scent and color change according to the aging of the material, despite its name it can also take on a color similar to gold.
It is a very versatile matter, it will enhance any compound, even the most delicate flowers will gain strength. It can be penetrating, sweet and salty at the same time, refined and mysterious. Its sillage is modest but its persistence is infinite.
If, on the other hand, you have read somewhere "ambrette seeds", another name that brings us back to amber, they are seeds that are hidden in the pod of the hibiscus and the essential oil that is extracted by distillation has a rich, sweet, musky scent. Its main chemical component is ambrettolide, a musk, also available in synthetic form .
Ambrettolide is considered by some as a rather delicate note as it does not have head notes impacting the nose, its diffusive power should not be underestimated. In perfumes it gives brightness and sinuosity, characteristics which make it an unequalled and very refined base note.
Another matter for the amber accord, mainly made of vanilla, benzoin and labdanum, with the addition of other notes, according to the creativity and inspiration of the nose.
The atmosphere that this accord must recreate, often present in oriental fragrances, is almost mystical: an ancestral odor.
The oriental family, synonymous with the amber family, according to the classification of the SFP (La Société Française des Parfumeurs), brings together fragrances that usually associate markedly talcum and vanilla aspects with resinous, spicy and animal notes. The fragrances of this family, if classically constructed, will almost all have the following characteristics: fullness, roundness, opulence. The floral notes used, or however more present, are rose, jasmine and carnation.
And recently have been associated with lighter, drier and fresher interpretations. The structure is usually characterized by a base with vanilla or tonka bean, amber accords (resins and/or ambergris notes), sandalwood, often patchouli and musks as well.
Given the impressive number of fragrances classified as "oriental", you will find some fragrances also very different from each other. In this family there is a strong predominance of perfumes dedicated to the feminine universe.