Floating Gold – Ambergris
Seldom this happens, a dead sperm whale washed up on the Dutch beaches. And even more rare, the carcass of this sperm whale showed to contain 83 kilograms ‘floating gold’ (ambergris). It happened in December 2012, an enormous dead sperm whale washed up on the sandbanks of Texel, The Netherlands.
Employees of Ecomare – the sea life center in Texel on preservation and education in the Wadden-region and The North Sea – dissected the animal and were more than pleasantly surprised to find enormous lumps of ambergris. Ambergris is known for centuries for its excellent qualities in perfumes, and is one of the most valuable raw materials in the perfume industry.
Also for the perfume professionals of Annindriya – independent scent experts in Amsterdam - this discovery was an once-in-a-lifetime experience, as the biologists from Ecomare visited Annindriya to share the experience and discuss usages of ambergris. It was marvellous to be handed the fresh ambergris by Ecomare in our own hands (with white gloves)! We anxiously smelled the material.
Till then we were always trained with the diluted form of ambergris and the synthetic alternatives. Now we had the most intense and unforgettable scent experience under our own nose! What a complexity, radiance and strength! We smelled stables and sea air in one breath; dirty, animalic, intimate, musky, tobacco-like, salty and sunny. Incredible longevity, our hands even smelled through the gloves for hours afterwards. In our own experience, we again can confirm that ambergris is used as fixative in perfumes, and create a beautiful staying power on the skin.
The name floating gold refers to the enormous value of ambergris in the perfume industry, as the material is so rare and unique in its olfactive properties. (The discovery by Ecomare will be sold eventually (after research) for expectedly more half a million euro.)
1 out of 100 sperm whales have the ability to produce it and it is mostly found in small quantities. Sperm whales produce ambergris, to protect its intestines from the sharp components in their diet, mainly the beaks form (giant) squids. Most of the cases, this substance is excreted, float on the sea for years, and solidifies further under the influence of salt and sun. Like this it can be found on beaches and shore lines.
To use the lumps of ambergris for perfumes, the pieces are crushed to make tincture or extract. It gets more rare that perfumers make use of the natural ambergris in their fragrance creations. And even then, it is often in combination with the synthetic alternatives (like Ambroxan or Ambrox). Fortunately the hunt on sperm whales is since decades totally forbidden.
The scent experts of Annindriya, especially the chemists amongst them, are now discussing the specific components of the found fresh ambergris. Is it partially mythical that the quality improves by floating on the sea or did the known conversions form the individual molecules also already take place in the intestines (probably the huge lumps were a build up of many years)?
Annindriya is in close contact to Ecomare. This discovery is besides a rich source for biology and the life of sperm whales also a invaluable source for fine fragrances. Will the fresh amber inspire perfumers with new accords versus the floated amber? How much ambreine is present versus the naphtofuran, and how will this influence the scent character?
Still much to be investigated and much to be experienced & enjoyed!