AMBERGRIS, THE RARE SCENT OF THE SEA
With prices often reaching 20,000 € per kilogram, ambergris is the most costly of all perfume materials and so, very few perfume houses still use it. However, Guerlain does, as many of its classic formulas contain ambergris. Ambergris, meaning "grey amber", is a biliary secretion from the cachalot or sperm whale. It is formed when the whale swallows cuttlefish, whose bony beaks irritate the gastrointestinal tract, causing the whale to secrete a waxy paste around them to avoid further irritation, in much the same way a pearl is formed inside an oyster. The whale would normally vomit hard or sharp objects, but if one of them travels further down the gut, it will be covered with ambergris. When the ambergris ball reaches a certain size, the whale will expel it. Ambergris obtains its soft, balsamic scent when it floats upon the sea, getting in contact with the sun and salt and all the marine odours. The longer it floats, the softer and more refined its scent.
Each year, Guerlain buys a certain amount of ambergris sourced from the Indian Ocean, and macerates it in alcohol to extract its fragrance into a tincture. The fragrance isn't strong but can play an important role in a perfume. "When you smell Mitsouko, you perceive very little the odour of ambergris, but if you don't add it to the composition, the perfume flattens completely," explains Jean-Paul Guerlain. The synthetic substitutes don't deliver the depth and complexity of real ambergris, but it would be pointless to use natural ambergris in a new perfume, he says. "It's a very expensive material, and the available quantity on the market is insufficient in proportion to the production volume that we fabricate nowadays." However, Thierry Wasser has recently revived the use of ambergris with Encens Mythique d'Orient, a perfume in the Déserts d'Orient series, and he has announced that ambergris is among the key materials in the new perfume Ambre Éternel as well.
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