Have you ever wanted that sexy, classy scent? How about a fragrance that subtly speaks to the animalistic nature of man? Maybe a little something of the whiff of the sea?
Then look no farther than “whale vomit”.
Sounds disgusting, right? Think again.
The sperm whale has been the principal target of the whaling industry for more than 200 years. One can find about 300 gallons of the purest oil in its great square forehead. Before the development of refined mineral oils and the production of synthetic ones, sperm whales were hunted for being the source of the finest lubricant ever known. The fluid was erroneously believed to be the whale’s sperm. And from this, the sperm whale was hence named.
No matter how useful this oil is, however, it does not compare to the value of the pungent-smelling, black matter the sperm whale regurgitates.
Ambergris, or liquid gold, as it is sometimes known, is one of the most expensive, natural substances ever to come from the sea. Sperm whales produce it when the undigested, hard beaks of squids it feeds on are expelled.
Ambergris is mostly found floating in the sea. The term “whale vomit”, often used to describe ambergris, is inaccurate. Scientists believe that ambergris is more similar to faecal matter.
I know, I know. This does not sound appealing at all. But believe it or not, these foul- smelling substances are actually worth its weight in gold. It is being sold in the European market for over $15,000 per kilogram of the substance.
And why is that?
The chief value of ambergris lies in its ability to fix other perfume ingredients to make them last longer. However, ambergris is rarely used as the dominant note. Often used as a base, it enhances and rounds out the other scents in the perfume.
Fresh ambergris has a marine, faecal odour. It takes time for it to mature and exposure to sun and air speeds up the process. Once it is mature, however, it can take on an earthy, sweet smell.
It is normally found in lumps, measuring to no more than a few ounces. Civilians normally discover ambergris accidentally—then end up with a lot of money.
A lot of fragrances nowadays contain ambergris. The contention for most brands, however, is whether they are using real ambergris or just claiming to.
Synthetic scent fixers do the job well enough, according to Christopher Kemp, author of the book “Floating Gold—A Natural (&Unnatural) History of Ambergris”. However, as much as they stabilise perfume, they do not add the faecal undertone that ambergris does.
When asked if all ambergris is the same Kemp says, “No two pieces (of ambergris) are the same. Each has been on a unique journey and is a bouquet of that. It comes out black and faecal, soft enough to be rolled into balls. That’s the lowest grade. Over the course of time and oxidation, it becomes silver—the highest grade.”
True enough, this belief is what lies behind the exclusive collection of Christian Dior’s La Collection Privée. Ambergris from New Zealand is the base note of Dior’s Ambre Nuit. This exclusive collection includes scents that rely on the potency of perfume to evoke emotional responses and memories.
When picking a signature fragrance, customers are asked several questions about olfactory likes and dislikes. Based on their answers, they are given three perfumes to smell. “Any more than that and the nose gets confused,” says Carl Groenwald, Dior’s National Fragrance Ambassador.
This difference in experiences among consumers is due to the variation in olfactory sense. For one person, the blend of notes can conjure up pleasant memories of a place or person. To another, it can be the opposite. For myself, Dior’s Ambre Nuit brings to mind a romantic evening out on a beach with a significant other. It evokes the memory of smoke by a bonfire. It’s perfect for a cool night out or a rainy evening spent in front of the fireplace.
Whatever it is, one cannot protest the innate value of this highly unlikely perfume additive. Ambergris is indeed just another of nature’s surprises.