Amber is a material that intrigues as much as it fascinates for millennia. But the confusion is not rare between the resin used for jewelry and the raw material so dear to perfumers. They are however two very different things. One is a yellow-orange fossil resin, secreted by conifers and formed millions of years ago. The other, ambergris, is a material of animal origin very popular in perfumery. Its name comes from the Arabic “anbar”, which means sperm whale. But what relationship can there be between marine animal and fragrance? Let’s lift the veil on the origin and the secrets of amber perfume.
Ambergris perfume : the origins
From the ocean to the bottle, an animal ingredient
Like musk, ambergris is an animal raw material. It is a concretion from the sperm whale. We explain: to feed, the cetacean eats large calamari whose beaks injure its intestinal walls. This causes lesions that the sperm whale will heal by secreting a substance that is then expelled naturally: this is the first form of ambergris.
To the eye and nose, its primary state is far from the delicate image of the scent that we know. The amber perfume reveals a rather unpleasant odor and has a blackish appearance with a soft consistency. By floating in the currents, ambergris will begin to lighten to become silver-gray or almost white. Thanks to the effect of sea salt, this material evolves. It hardens gradually and its smell changes, it is refined, rounded. It is this stage of floating that will give all the nuances so particular to the perfume of ambergris. Unlike other ingredients of animal origin, the harvest of this precious substance does not involve hunting or mistreatment of sperm whales. This is why it is the only animal material currently authorized in perfumery.
Ambergris: a precious and fragrant stone
Carried by the currents, the amber stones that look like large blocks, end up stranded on the shores of the beaches. Small dark stone or large fragment, ambergris has no generic form. However, experienced fishermen know how to recognize it among all other stones. And it is easy to understand why when you know its price and rarity! In October 2021, a Thai fisherman made an incredible discovery: an ambergris stone weighing more than 30 kilos, washed up on a beach in southern Thailand! An inspired find that brought him the modest sum of 250 000 €…
The virtues of ambergris
The origin of ambergris has long been a mystery. 2000 years BC, Chinese thought it was the “perfume of the dragons drool”, sleeping on the open sea rocks, so deeply they drooled in the ocean. An Arab doctor by the name of Avicenne developed another theory of an underwater fountain explaining the origin of ambergris. Yet, its use dates back to antiquity. Egyptians already used it in their incenses and other scented oils. Highly appreciated for its aphrodisiac properties, it is also used as a real makeover.
Sought-after for its medicinal properties, ambergris landed in Europe in the Middle Ages and its price quickly reached the one of gold! To protect themselves from diseases, the richest wear around the neck a “pomander” (or apple of amber). It is a kind of openwork metal ball containing a small piece of amber. Some relate that Marie-Antoinette used to drink every day a hot chocolate concocted with cocoa, vanilla and ambergris. While her ancestor Louis XIV drank it in his hygienic broths.
The history of amber perfume
The amber in perfumery
Being very rare (only 1 to 5% of sperm whales produce it), ambergris is logically a highly expensive raw material. Today, ambergris used in most perfumes comes from a synthetic material, ingeniously reproduced thanks to the work and know-how of talented perfumers. Once again, synthesis offers to noses an expanded palette of scents, by democratizing the use of a material that would otherwise be dedicated to an elite. In perfumery, ambergris is very often used as fixer. It helps to improve the remanence of a fragrance, to make it last longer on your skin. Indeed, its persistent notes allow to set the most volatile ones.
Amber perfume: a bewitching smell
But then, what does amber smell like? The perfume of ambergris is hard to describe because it varies according to the time spent on the sea and its origin. It releases of course heavy and powerful animal notes, even musky. Your nose will be tickled by woody notes of tobacco, oriental spices or a seabed of seaweed. Amber also awakens our senses with warmer vanilla and creamy notes. It evokes to each a different memory, letting olfactory souvenirs make them effect. From the incenses burned in churches to the perfume of oriental markets, ambergris reveals its thousands facets to delight noses seeking for sensuality.
The fragrant associations of amber
Thanks to this cocktail of nuances, the fragrance of amber is always, or almost always, revealed in sensuality. This is why we can find traces of amber in many compositions. It is commonly associated with gourmand, warm or woody notes, and ingredients like vanilla, musk or patchouli. You understand why it is one of the essential raw materials of oriental fragrances. Moreover, this olfactory family is also called amber perfume. It also fits perfectly with floral and spicy formulas. By giving them warm, deep and sensual facets, ambergris sublimates many perfumes.
Which amber perfume to choose ?
SO, the amber perfume for women
When we created so, we wanted to highlight this precious ingredient. Ambergris settles in its base note, sublimating a cocktail of flowers and spices: bergamot, coriander, tonka bean, jasmine, musk or patchouli and vanilla. We have thought this fragrance as an invitation to an inner journey, the meditation and relaxation. First created as an eau de parfum for your daily use, we quickly developed an even more intense pure perfume version.
An amber home fragrance
For all lovers of this sensual perfume, we have created a home fragrance. You can immerse yourself in a welcome meditation by burning incense SO. For a cozy nap on the couch or a relaxing bubble bath, discover also an amber candle. In the scented candle SO, a thousand and one shades of ambergris reveal their sensual notes to melt into a warm and bewitching bed… An olfactory program not to be missed!
Did you know the origin of ambergris? Are you already addicted to this ingredient or are you now ready to give it a try?
© Crédit photo : Ambre Gris Europe
Discover our fragrances