The scent of two 150-year-old bottles of perfume -- recovered from a shipwreck off the coast of Bermuda -- has been re-created at a laboratory in New Jersey.
Drom Fragrances, a German company with a center in Towaco, has used the latest in perfume technology to analyze the bottles' contents and create a modern-day scent based on the findings. The public will be able to smell the perfume for the first time tomorrow at The Bermuda Perfumery in Hamilton, Bermuda. Plans to showcase the scent more widely are being finalized.
This discovery "shows that people were always hungry to smell," says Jean-Claude Delville, senior perfumer at Drom, who worked on creating the scent. "And that's what we're trying to reproduce and to make people excited by not only the story but by the fragrance."
The journey to re-create the 150-year-old perfume started in February 2011, when a winter storm exposed the bow section of the Mary Celestia, a Civil War blockade runner that had sunk off the south coast of Bermuda on the way to the American South in 1864. A seven-day excavation in June 2011 revealed several artifacts, including two intact bottles of perfume.
The perfume was originally manufactured by Piesse & Lubin, a well-known London perfume house in the 19th century. G.W. Piesse is best known for writing the "The Art of Perfumery," the first modern book about making perfume, which was published in 1857. No other bottles of Piesse & Lubin perfume have ever been found, and research hasn't uncovered any formulas or perfume techniques used by the company.
After the perfume bottles were discovered, the head of the excavation crew reached out to Isabelle Ramsey-Brackstone, director and head perfumer of The Bermuda Perfumery. Ramsey-Brackstone recognized the importance of the find and reached out to Delville to see if he and Drom would be interested in working with them to analyze and re-create the perfume.
With the permission of the Bermudan government, which still owns the original perfume bottles, Ramsey-Brackstone hand delivered the bottles to Drom's research and development center in New Jersey. Opening the sealed bottles, Delville says, was like "going back 150 years into life."
"I was shocked at how fresh and floral it was and by the amount of citrus in it," he says.
The 150-year-old perfume smelled primarily of citrus along with some more intense woody and oriental fragrances, Delville says. There were also some hints of floral and "animalic" scents, such as musk.
To more scientifically analyze the bottles' contents, Drom used a machine that chemically analyzes materials to determine their contents, a gas chromatograph. The machine revealed that the contents in both bottles were exactly the same, but was unable to conclusively determine which Piesse & Lubin scent was in the bottle.
Researchers think the perfume could be "Bouquet Opoponax," which was first launched in 1859 and became one of the company's most popular scents. Piesse & Lubin were well-known not only for their perfume innovations, but also for making many advances in perfume marketing and packaging. Their perfumes had modern-sounding names, such as "Kiss Me Quick," "Frolic" and "The Flower of the Day."
When it came time to re-create the perfume, Delville says he tried not just to replicate it, but to update it for modern tastes. Perfumes in the 19th century were much stronger than the kind people use today, and also consisted of many ingredients that are no longer widely used.
Using animal-derived scents in perfumes, for example, is no longer a common practice in the industry, says Robert Stapf, vice president of fine fragrances at Drom, who also worked on the project. But today's technology allows perfumers to create these scents and many others synthetically and gives them access to a wide-range of fragrances not available 150 years ago, he says.
Delville created three updated versions of the perfume and sent them down to Bermuda, where Ramsey-Brackstone will decide which ones to show at her store. Delville hopes the perfume will eventually be available more widely so as many people as possible can smell and enjoy it.
"Our job is to make the people dream, you know?" Delville says. "We want to make the world a better place and smelling is harmless. It's pleasure, 100 percent."