How did you get your hands on
some ambergris to begin with?!
Thread: Ambergris oil
I have a question about ambergris. I've had success making ambergris tincture but I'd also like to dissolve ambergris in oil. Does anyone know about its oil solubility? If it's highly soluble in oil I imagine I could shake the oil with the tincture and add more ambergris as needed to reinforce the tincture. Anyway, that's what I'm thinking. It may also be possible to heat the ambergris directly in oil to dissolve it. Does anyone have experience with ambergris oil?
How did you get your hands on
some ambergris to begin with?!
Well, if it's really good ambergris, it should cost like 10 times the price of gold.
Ambergris is almost unpayable - hence it being replaced by synthetic stuff in
most perfumes. Only the real high end firms still use genuine ambergris.
The longer it floats around in the water the lighter its color gets.
I would kill for some, you know, to smell it straight up!
But, as you probably know, ambergris is not used for its smell,
but for its fixative qualities. It helps in getting better longevity.
The smell should be soft, balsamic and sensuel ... but faint.
and then place it back into the sun. I have no experience, but,
I'd reckon that would be the right thing to do to 'grow' it?!
Last edited by Le Grand Duc; 21st February 2012 at 08:30 PM.
Thank you, your excellency, for responding to my post. I had two pieces, one was a pale brown and the other white. I made separate tinctures of both of them. But now something really fascinating is happening. I noticed this gunk at the bottom of one of the test tubes and figured it was particulate matter that was just settling out or, perhaps, the solid active ingredient in ambergris, but, no, it's an oil! A deep amber oil at the bottom of the tincture. My temptation is to further evaporate the tincture to see if I can get more of the essence of the ambergris to precipitate out as this oil. There doesn't seem to be a lot of literature out there about these things. Thanks again. Jim Peterson
As for tinctures in oils, patience is all you need and a decent smelling bit of Ambergris to start with, although I like some of the supposedly lesser quality ones too. I have all sorts of tinctures in both oil and alcohol and each works well but oils take longer in my experience. I'm finding powdery things seem to tincture more effectively in oils but that is an unscientific finding of my own. If the ambergris can be ground and macerated as much as possible, then there is more surface to tincture from, with the alcohol or oil added little by little to try to stop it clumping. A bit like making mayonnaise really. Some of my Ambergris has been dry like powder, so it was easy, others have been like tar, so not so easy.
what stops you? type in buy ambergris on google and get straight to the first link. that's ambergris.co.nz and they have a good reputation. they sell 10 grams for 250 dollars, that is a lot of tincture! you can make roughly 300ml of tincture from that. so, add the price of the alcohol and the bottle and the price of 100ml ambergris tincture is in the same range as a 100ml perfume bottle.I would kill for some, you know, to smell it straight up! ;)
arctander wrote, 'its odor is rather subtle, reminiscent of seaweed, wood, moss, with a peculiar sweet, yet very dry undertone of unequaled tenacity.'But, as you probably know, ambergris is not used for its smell,
but for its fixative qualities. It helps in getting better longevity.
The smell should be soft, balsamic and sensuel ... but faint.
and although it is a very important quality, ambergris is not only used as a fixative. it is also used as a bouquetting agent, rounds off harsh chemical notes, and other effects is has on the composition. and, yes, for it's odor.
i thought of this too. but would it work? i don't know. could it do damage? i'm not sure, but there must be a reason this has never been common practice? should be interesting to try if you have a small piece and several years (or decades) spare. ;)If it's a chunk you have, I would dump it into a jar of sea water, and then place it back into the sun. I have no experience, but, I'd reckon that would be the right thing to do to 'grow' it?!
You can also buy ambergris absolute from Scentsual Antiquities, which is completely soluble. I put a bit in some sandalwood oil last week. It took just a few days to completely dissolve. I'm not sure if it has really enhanced the sandalwood that much yet. I'll let them intermingle for a while more before deciding.
"it's soft, balsamic sensuality sublimates all other materials ...
... being worth around ten times the price of gold."
I dunno with todays insane gold prices, but, in a not so distant past, it was!
And I know it's used for other things, but, it's mostly knonw for/used for its
good fixative qualities.
At the risk of being long winded, I'm including my ambergris notes. Please forgive the lack of rigor in the measurements, but the experiments did teach me a lot about it. I finally can smell it--it smells a lot like seaweed mixed with goose fat or something like that. Here are the notes:
Macerated 2 grams (one gram of brown, one gram of white) ambergris in approximately 100 ml per each gram piece (they were macerated separately). Expected to wait one week before removing the still-intact chunk and weighing it and comparing the weight before and after maceration to determine if further maceration was going to be effective. Instead of this whole process, I was amazed to find that both chunks dissolved in about 3 days in alcohol (perfumers’ alcohol; 190 proof) at room temperature. I decanted the solutions into new test tubes, leaving behind a powdery black residue. I added a small amount of alcohol to the residue (about 10 ml.) to the residue, let it settle (over 24 hours) and added the solution to the main body of the tincture. At this point I had two approximately 75 ml-tubes of tincture of ambergris. The tincture from the white ambergris was pale yellow, almost like fino sherry; the tincture from the brown ambergris was amber like amontillado. I left these in their test tubes for several days. At this point the tinctures had the most subtle possible whiff—at the very edge of my olfactory perception—of what I now recognize to be ambergris, indescribable, vaguely marine (like konbu?) but also something reminiscent of the best camembert, sexy and compelling. Very subtle. I mean, very. But compelling nevertheless. Decided to evaporate to concentrate the essence by simply covering the test tubes with paper towels tied on and leaving them at room temperature.
About 1 week later, decided to risk hastening the evaporation by cooking in a bain-marie. Decided to use a double bain-marie. Cooked approximately 3 hours to concentrate by about half such that I now had more concentrated tincture. I decided that the tincture was saturated*. One week later, I noticed a sediment at the bottom of the brown tincture. As I examined it closely, it was an oil. A dark, amber oil that seems to “float” on the bottom of the alcohol. So I’ve set about, reducing it a second time, again using a bain-marie. When I touch the tincture, it dries to a waxy residue, not sticky really, but very tenacious. It sticks to test tubes much like wax and can’t be washed off with detergent. Only alcohol or lye will do the trick. I’ve now reduced it down to about 10 ml. Half is a deep red liquid coming halfway up the test tube; what’s floating on top is the original colored infusion. I notice wax forming on the side of the test tube as I continue the reduction. Strangely the “wax” liquefies as the mixture cools.
I evaporated all the alcohol and am left with a bright red, semi-liquid substance that smells strongly of ambergris, much more so than the tincture. When I transferred the mixture to a small test tube, I had about 3 ml. of substance (consider that I used 2 grams of ambergris to make the initial tincture). Because there was residual ambergris in the large test tube, I decided to heat the test tube to see what the ambergris smelled like as it volatilized. It created white smoke that smelled like resin—the kind use for soldering.
* My decision was based on the observation that the liquid grew cloudy when cool and clear when hot. In other words, a precipitate of solid (presumably, more about this later) formed on a microscopic level and caused the liquid to cloud.
do you know who steffen arctander is? he wrote what's considered the bible on perfume and flavouring materials. stuff that has been used as a reference by producers, perfumers and perfumery schools for decades. sadly, he wrote his books half a century ago and especially his chapters on aroma-chemicals are dated, but that doesn't include his writings on ambergris. his description is still valid as a reference of what ambergris should smell like.
i don't really believe ambergris ever was 10x as expensive as gold either. but i agree the price hasn't risen in a similar fashion, though i would argue that it should be more stable than money, even though the demand has dropped.
Thanks for the tip; I'll look him up. I paid $25/gram for the ambergris. I think gold is around $55/gram these days.
Done the needle test and yes, black liquid with smell.
Could this be ambergris?
Doesn't immediately look very promising from the pics I'm afraid.
What is the texture?
What is the smell?
Does it contain beak like shapes?
Has it got a strata like structure of matter as if it were formed around something in a stomach?
Where you found it may have a bearing on possibility.
Hope this helps.
There were some unexplained waxy lumps found on the coast from Norfolk upwards in England fairly recently. Someone sent me some samples and they were sadly of a petrochemical nature. The one I was sent had a crystalline type of structure.
The answer to that will lie in the petrol like smell.
Last edited by mumsy; 4th May 2012 at 03:14 PM.
Gido is right that a key test is the smell. My guess on this one is that it will be another petrochemical lump, like the ones Mumsy saw, probably from a tanker flushing itís tanks at sea.
BTW Gido, I meant to say before:
made me chuckle. I shall be at the BSP symposium again next week and I suspect his name will be used with equally deep respect there too . . .mm, yes, roja dove. a perfume salesman.
don't get me wrong, though, i respect him too. but he's no perfumer, and certainly not an institute of raw materials knowledge, like arctander was (and still is, with regard to older materials). that was my point.
he certainly isn't any ordinary perfume salesman, far from that.
Last edited by gido; 4th May 2012 at 06:14 PM.
No certainly not ordinary.
What I tend to hear at gatherings of perfumers though is that he calls himself a Master Perfumer and isnít.
Arctander is in a league all of his own though. I wish heíd been writing a few decades later really as so much has changed - I was struck when I looked up his write-up on agarwood that he says the oil Ďmight find use in perfumeryí: in those days it was virtually unknown in the West.
This is a fascinating thread and made me curious about Steffen Arctander's book. I'm a bit shocked to see it costs 380€ and more on Amazon (and elsewhere) though.
here on Basenotes (thanks gido!). Still, it's a bit of a nuisance compared to having the printed thing in your hands.
We still would love to know what it smells like. Can you describe it for us?
That actually sounds more promising. Is it almost fecal or aeroplane fuel? It sounds worth testing properly. Can you see any beaks. Can you take some more pics?
Where are you in the world? There may be one of us BNers near enough to help.
I'm in ireland, on the irish sea. I cant see any beaks, It does have definate layers, i could slice it open more to examine it for beaks.
I'll try and get more photos, i have sent a sample to the zoology department in trinity college for examination, i'll post the result of this to satisfy curoisity...
The waxy deposit found was on the other side of England to you, so unlikely a bit got around and back again. There was some ambergris found in 2008 from the beach in North Wales, so maybe..... I hunt in vain every time we go there. The yellow area is what doesn't compute with what I have seen, but who knows what it has been rolling around in. Let us know when they tell you.
I wander beaches with my fingers crossed looking for ambergris. Nothing in Scarbough this weekend, but that was a long shot.
I first met Roja Dove in Dickens & Jones in 1990 when he sold me a bottle of Eau de Fleurs de Cedrat, so I thank him for that. He wasn't best pleased when I reminded him though.
But bless his little cotton socks, Roja Dove is a very good Roja Dove salesman. Professeur de Parfums - it sounds like an academic title but in France a professeur is a high school teacher. Among many exaggerations and at least three different spellings of chypre, it says in his book that natural honeysuckle absolute is "never used". OK it's expensive, but I've got some in my cupboard. Bergamot is "used in up to half of all modern perfumes". So technically that's anything from none at all to 50%, which is a meaningless statement. I've heard him say out loud that geranium bourbon was named after the kings of France so that's how you can tell it's of the finest quality, that his perfumes don't have any chemicals in them and, when taken up on this, that he meant "chemical chemicals". He told the boss of Steam Cream that he had been Guerlain's nose. Best of all, in the current edition of the Harrods Roja Dove Haute Perfumery magazine, he names three "Master Perfumeurs, Exceptional Noses in the History of Perfume". There's Caron's Ernest Daltroff, the all time master (IMHO) Edmond Roudnitska and... Roja Dove. And he spells it Edmund! Show some respect, Roja. You've got to admire the bare-faced cheek. I wish I had one millionth of his ability as a publicist (self), and without doubt he is charm personified, but he's so far over the top that surely he must fall down the other side at some point. Or maybe he'll just float on a perfumed cloud of audacity...
cetyl palmitate (thatís the oil that sperm whales have in their huge heads and use as part of the echo location system) itís basically worthless.
At one time the west coast of Ireland was a popular hunting ground for ambergris, but Iím not so sure about the Irish Sea side.
Yes, Roja has some brass neck, thatís for sure - the funny thing really is that so many people are taken in.
I believe it was P T Barnum who said Ďthereís one born every minuteí (though in truth he was probably only talking about customers, and probably didnít say Ďthereís a sucker born every minuteí).
Thank you, it also had me chortling. Bare faced cheek seems to be the answer. Pity it doesn't come in a bottle. Perhaps it is just bottle!
My latest ambergris experiments have led me to tincture four different types. Some I’ve cold tinctured and some I’ve hot tinctured. In one case, I cold tinctured and then hot tinctured the dregs so I came up with two tinctures. For each tincture, I evaporated some of it to make an alcohol-free “absolute.” The absolute from the cold tincture is a thick, golden, viscous liquid. Initially it smelled of isopropanol but now is acquiring radiance from sitting in the light. My theory is that ambergris matures more quickly in absolute form than it does as a tincture. Thus, it makes sense to make absolutes, mature them in the sun (I’m waiting 6 months to observe the effect), and then re-tincturing them. Those absolutes I made from hot tinctures, have hardened into waxy precipitates, each with its own aroma—from radiant, to castoreum, to ambroxan. But it occurs to me that it makes more sense to tincture absolutes made from cold tinctures because these absolutes are transparent, making them more susceptible to the effects of light—the light transpierces them. Another weird thing: the waxy precipitate from hot tinctures is oily and gentle on the skin while the residue on the skin from a cold tincture becomes sticky and hard to remove—extremely tenacious. It’s also almost impossible to remove from my test tubes as it’s only soluble in alcohol.
You sound as obsessed as me...... watch out, it doesn't go away......
I know. It only seems to get worse. I even tried to propose a book (I'm a writer) about ambergris, musk and oud...my favorite substances.
Chris Kemp has just written a book called Floating Gold. He is one of us here with the bug.
As for every ledge and tinctures.... maybe there should be a book on stinky obsessions
Oh, I must go in search...
which is the best concentration for alcol ambergris tincture?
I made mine at 7% with amber bought in Oman, Arctander says 3%, others say me 10%.
I normally do mine at 2-3% (by weight) which is in line with the recommendation in Poucher as well as Arctander. There is nothing wrong with using a higher percentage though, except that it pushes up the cost of the resulting tincture so much.
Donít forget you need to allow as long as possible for it to mature before you filter it though - Poucher suggests a minimum of two weeks, but it was often left for months, which is what I try to do.
I've been doing mine at a saturated solution which seems to vary, depending on the ambergris, from 10% to 25%. As concerns aging the ambergris, I get a better result if I cook off all the alcohol in a double double boiler and then let the resulting "absolute" mature in the sun before I re-tincture it.
I remember you saying somewhere that the absolute seemed to age faster, but Iíve not been brave enough to attempt that yet with my limited ambergris supply!
Yes, you have to be careful. I had a test tube "bump" and shoot tincture all over the stove. There were flames everywhere and I must have lost a good 5 ml. of tincture. So what if I burned the house down, the thought of that lost tincture...
I am never in the slightest hurry with any of mine. I first made them at 10% and matured three for one year and another for two years. They have continued to mature ever since, but off the base. They are now out of this world, more like an extrait, and the clarity is sparkling.
I did wonder if the 10% made the solution super-saturated, and therefore maybe it could have extracted more if I had made it less concentrated. I have re-tinctured the remains to see what else is in there and will leave those another year. I don't care if my tincture is strong and expensive. I have made these with greatest care and infinite attention to every historic detail that I found because I adore ambergris with a purple passion.
I've started another at 3% to see if it compares... we will have to wait a year to find out.
I'm not hyper-passionate about it or anything.....Whatever gave you that idea?
thank you for your answer.
I heard that if is very high concentrated is hard to extract well all ambergris. I try to do mine at 10%, but it was a lot of residue. Now it is at 7% and is very less residue.
I think that I will diluite a little amount to 3%
I read that it has to age six months-one year.
My is now one month and smells fantastic!
I'm not sure how concentrated mine is but I'd guess about 5%. It's sitting in the sun "maturing" but still only has a faint odor.
So Mumsy, how are your tinctures now in terms of longevity? Does the ambergris scent itself last for very long (on a paper strip or on skin)?
I'm sure I've read in different places that the scent of ambergris is very long-lasting. But so far, I'm not convinced. None of the real ambergris products I've experienced (neither the ones I've bought nor those I've made myself) last very long at all. Most of them are very fleeting, some lasting only minutes on the skin and not very much longer on paper.
Also, Mumsy, have you used them much in your own perfume blends?
I ask because, like you, I love the scent of ambergris itself, but I have trouble believing the idea that it "exalts" perfume blends or makes them "3D" or whatever. Granted, I don't particularly like any of my own perfume blends to begin with, but when I add ambergris tincture to them they neither last longer nor become more "magical" or "expansive" or "sparkly" or "dazzling". All I notice is a kind of muting or softening of the fragrance (which can certainly be useful, but not always). (By the way I've also tried adding ambergris to a somewhat fleeting commercial fragrance to see the effect and I was again disappointed.)
For me, it just doesn't seem to have the aesthetic effect in a blend that people claim it does. I don't mean to sound like such a huge cynic. I'd actually be really happy if some of you more experienced perfumers can re-assure me of the "magic" of real ambergris in perfumes.
In my own experience, ambergris is very tenacious, if very faint. When I apply some of my tincture to my skin, it forms a waxy residue that's still there the next day and after a shower. Especially when hot tinctured, ambergris seems to contain waxes that comprise the residue. It would make sense that these might "hold on" to an aroma but I've never made any experiments to see.
Dear Mumsy, Did you use hot alcohol or cold for your tinctures? And, if you used cold, did you tincture the residue with hot alcohol?
@renegade.. I have worn them on my hand and they have been very perceptible on the skin the next day and longer on my clothing. I shall do a controlled timing on them for you when I get a moment to be that organised.
I use them in my own blends and have been happy with the results so far. I believe they do exalt a blend, but it depends what you are searching for and obviously what you are putting in alongside. I think perhaps because I am used to working with naturals, I have a more gentle palette to work with, so the ambergris has a greater effect than it might do on a stronger man made aroma.
I would say the main thing to note is that real ambergris is not there as a smell in itself, so much as a grounding, longevity agent for more translucent, transient delicates. There is also the fact that each piece is very different from the next, so there is not a general ambergris as such, but many shades within the bracket from black to white. Each of these real ambergris has its own qualities and will each impart quite a different and individual effect to each other. The ambergris synthetic however has a very distinctive aroma and probably the one most people associate with it.
Try putting ambergris on one hand and letting it dry, then put a delicate floral on both hands and smell the difference in both time and depth. To smell it properly, let go of any preconceptions and expectations, then smell with your nose and not your head. Breathe gently on the area and feel around the ambergris with your other senses and with your eyes closed. The smell will not actually be different as such, but will be fuller, rounder and deeper. The same thing, but definitely 3D.
@James...I prepared mine in the traditional way, then used cold alcohol to begin with but exposed the whole to a constant warmth for the first month. I have a special warm step at home for ambergris keeping. It should be horses dung really. I have only warmed any alcohol if the residue was being stubborn, not made it hot. I was more worried about evaporation because I wasn't seeking it.
I used a traditional recipe, but I resisted adding the 30 grains of musk and the 20 grains of civet this time.... if anyone would like to send me some.... then maybe next time...
You really ought to try eating it. Grind a tiny amount with an equal amount of very fine loaf crystalline sugar until it resembles pale cream wax, then place some on the tip of your tongue.... you'll see why.
Because of the many different nuances with real ambergris, and because I am obsessive, I like to keep a selection of differing types to play with its effect and mainly just because I can never get enough of it. I've been wearing pure two and a quarter year old silver ambergris tincture whist writing this and have never found anything I love more... yet!
Mumsy (and James), I'm really pleased to hear that you're tinctures are actually lasting a day or more on the skin and clothing. It gives me more faith for my own ones. There not quite as old as yours yet, one's nine months, the other seven.
The seven month old tincture is from a piece of ambergris (around 40 or 50 grams) that was offered on eBay last year (you might have seen it), it's kind of a brown/beige/gold piece with black parts. When I got it I really couldn't smell a thing. It was only after warming it up that I could even be sure that it was in fact ambergris. The seller couldn't give me much info on it, only to say that it was from a friend who made perfumes and that he had been told it was very good ambergris. Because there was so little scent, I'm guessing that person owned the piece for quite a while - because usually the darker coloured pieces smell much stronger. It also had signs of handling - the surface was kind of shiny and oily looking and I think there were even little hairs stuck in it (god only knows what he was doing with it!).
Anyway, I tinctured the lot of it, save for a tiny piece, and it's only in the last couple of months that this tincture is starting to smell of anything at all. It's kind of a really deep, honeyed, ambery scent, not remotely fecal. And this one, while very very subtle, seems to be lasting a bit longer already than any of the tinctures I bought. Maybe a day on paper. And it's very waxy on the skin (it's at ten percent). So, maybe this one will turn into something special after another year or two.
Did you say you tinctured some of the white stuff? I have a tiny piece of white ambergris tincturing now for a couple of months (in a 1.5ml vial) and it smells of almost nothing to me. I'm interested to know if a piece of ambergris that initially has little or no scent develops a stronger aroma when tinctured. I think I read ambrein itself is odorless, so maybe the brown/gold/black piece I tinctured had a high ambrein content?
Oh the mysteries of ambergris!
P.S. I will definitely try the sugar thing. It seems to have an interesting effect on rats.
What a dreadful job to have to have to monitor all those mucky rats. Yeeech
My very best tinctures are the older ones. It is a pure case of patience with ambergris. You can hurry the tinctures for immeadiate use and I presume the ambrein will have much the same effect on the perfume longevity, but for beauty, time is best. The very, very best whites will not have very much smell as such, which is what makes them the best for perfumes. They can be there without odour influence, just pure power.
My silver grey is best for sea type odour in my collection so far, but I have a mega stunning bit of ancient, aged white under new tincture. The best bit I have ever seen in all the time I have been tincturing. I cannot wait to see what that does later.
I'm actually quite liking the black too as it gets older. It's far too ponky when new. I think a very matured tincture of black ambergris will have it's uses within a blend in the same sort of way as Oudh does.
I really think that ambergris is in a similar league in the way that each type is different from the next. There isn't a blanket type. They are all very individual, different and fascinating. I can quite see why the mystery of ambergris persists dispute all the advances in aroma chemicals.
I have smelled the Ambroxan very carefully and side by side with the real thing. It is quite a nice smell as itself, but its characteristics are always the same. It has no facets, like a continuous clone. Any perfume using it has the same character as the next. I do not want that for my own perfumes, but I can see that commercially, it is desirable to replicate accurately in huge quantities. Luckily for me, I don't have that problem.
My oldest tincture is about 9 months and it doesn't smell any different than the first day I got it. Perhaps it takes years? My "reduced absolutes" on the other hand have matured quite beautifully but their aroma isn't terribly consistent with what I've read about ambergris. I have a brown, white, and black tincture and absolutes. The tinctures smell the same, but the absolutes are each developing their own aroma. The black absolute smells like a kind of soft castoreum while the white ambergris has a radiant glowing effect, slightly sour, like creme fraiche. The brown ambergris is less aromatic than the others. The big question is: When I re-tincture the absolutes (since I'm going to have to end up with tincture anyway) will they retain the character they've developed or will they revert to a young tincture smell. When tinctures, all three kinds of ambergris have a generic animal isopropanol smell and that's at a very high concentration (around 20%).
What you are doing is truly fascinating, so there are a few more questions. I hope you don't mind any directness.
Have you weighed everything and kept a good record of what you have done? It would be hard to answer the last question without knowing more details.
The first observation is very surprising. Tinctures take time to get better and stronger, and if, after 9 months, it is neither, then other questions need to be asked. Quantity ratio, what alcohol used, quality/purity of ingredient, temp for how long etc, etc....
The absolutes, as such, are the most interesting. If, under such conditions, the smell is developing into another realm, then it remains to be discovered exactly which isolated condition has the most influence on the ambrein? This is the most fascinating development of ambergris because a true absolute needs such a lot of ambergris to make it. Then it has to get re-diluted to the same strength as a tincture for use. The value of the absolute pursuit is surely questionable with such an expensive ingredient unless the final smell and effect on the perfume longevity warrants it.
There was a lovely absolute made a while ago, and it would be interesting to note how it compares.