Amber Base Newsletter
The realm of amber perfumes has a distinct fascination for those interested in natural perfumes. The very word "amber" has an ancient, mysterious resonance and naturally attracts the attention towards essences that bear its name. Hopefully in this article one may find information that may assist understanding what amber perfumes might be composed of and perhaps encourage the aspiring perfumer to create an amber essence themselves. It is by practical experimentation that one eventually begins to create their own signature perfumes. To be directly involved in the creative process of perfume blending can greatly increase ones appreciation of the world of natural essences. Blending the oils, studying the changes they go through as they mature and then sharing the finished aromatic creation with friends and customers can be a source of great delight.
The etymology of the word "amber" is a fascinating one:
"ETYMOLOGY: Amber, the English designation for the fossil resin used as a gemrock, is noted in most English-language dictionaries to have the following general etymology: Middle English ambre > Old French ambre > Medieval Latin ambra (or ambar), from the Arabic 'anbar, which originally referred to ambergris and only later also to amber. "
--from Gemrocks: Ornamental & Curio Stones, Appendix D: Amber Etymology Plus
"From Arabic (‘anbar) ‘ambergris’ (now ‘amber’). Ambergris, of animal origin, somehow became confused with the fossil resin, of vegetable origin, so the French language differentiated them as ambre gris, grey amber, and ambre jaune, yellow amber. English adopted this differentiation in the respective forms ambergris and amber(the gem stone)."
--from "Amber," Wictionary
History too draws us deeper into this intriguing world:
"Amber has been a highly-valued material since earliest times. Worked amber dating back to 11,000 B.C. has been found at archeological sites in England. Amber was widely believed to have magical healing powers. It was used to make varnish as long ago as 250 B.C., and powdered amber was valued as incense. Amber was also traded throughout the world. By identifying the type of amber used in ancient artifacts, scholars can determine the geographical source of the amber and draw conclusions about early trade routes.
In about 600 B.C., the Greek philosopher Thales rubbed amber with silk, causing it to attract dust and feathers. This static electricity was believed to be a unique property of amber until the sixteenth century, when English scientist William Gilbert demonstrated that it was characteristic of numerous materials. He called it electrification, after elektron, the Greek word for amber.
In the Western Hemisphere, the Aztecs and Mayans carved amber and burned it as incense. The Taino Indians of the island of Hispaniola offered gifts of amber to Christopher Columbus.
The decorative use of amber culminated in 1712 with the completion of an entire banquet room made of amber panels constructed for King Frederick I of Prussia. In the nineteenth century amber attained new significance when German scientists began studying the fossils imbedded in it."
If you will go through the above web site you will discover just how much fascination and attraction the word "amber" has for the human consciousness. The author of the article explores amber in many different languages which shows very clearly that to many peoples throughout the world both in ancient and modern times-this precious material is greatly cherished and loved. There are even museums dedicated to Amber:
That being said let us then look at two important types of amber. I think it will be clear from reading the two different descriptions of odor-that of ambergris and of amber from the fossilized resin, Pinus succinifera, that the amber essence that we are are normally finding in the perfume world are made in imitation of ambergris. In other words the odor of ambergris has given rise to some type of olfactory vision of what amber should be like. There are many natural extracts and essential oils that can be used to create this olfactory vision and herein lies a wonderful realm of creative endeavor for all of us who love natural perfumery. These will be explored in a future newsletter and include Benzoin extracts, Styrax extracts, Sclareol(from Clary Sage), Poplar Bud Absolute/Essential Oil, Labdanum extracts, Seaweed Absolute, Honey Absolute, Oakmoss extracts, Ambrette Seed and several others.
The odor of ambergris
"Ambra is a pale grayish or creamy-yellow to brown or dark brown way solid mass which melts in boiling water. Its odor is rather subtle, reminiscent of seaweed, wood, moss with a peculiar sweet, yet very dry undertone of unequaled tenacity. There is rarely any animal note in a good grade of Ambra."-Steffen Arctander-
"Ambergris has an unusual odour which is difficult to explain to anyone who has never had the pleasure of its sensual aroma. Ambergris is often described as being musky and having a sweet earthy aroma unlike any other, or a mossy fragrance reminiscent of the damp forest floor. Depending on the quality of the ambergris there can be a great variation in the fragrance. Poor quality or fresh ambergris (which is black and sticky) is fairly offensive in fragrance. If you can imagine scented cow dung you will be on the right track. Many people expect ambergris to have a very strong or foul odour, but this is not the case. In general, lighter coloured pieces of ambergris have a subtle, pleasant smell. The base animal (manure) odour fades as the ambergris cures. However, the white and grey varieties, in particular, possess the subtle, sweet addictive aroma that beach combing dreams are made of."
Amber oil as distilled from the fossilized resin
Amber pieces which are unfit for jewelry, such as dust residues from the gem industry etc are submitted to dry distillation in order to yield the so-called Succinol or Crude Amber Oil. Amber oil is a dark amber-colored or brownish, but clear oily liquid. Its odor is smoky, tarlike, resinous, with the distinct resemblance to the odor of tanned leather. Amber oil-rectified is produced by the steam distillation of the crude pyroligneoius amber oil. The steam distilled oil is a pale yellow and clear liquid with a peculiar burnt-woody, somewhat camphoraceous odor, reminiscent of the still note in certain fresh distilled fir and spruce oil. The odor also resembles that of crude pine oil with a kerosene-styrene top note.
" Small pieces of poor quality amber, including about 90% of Baltic amber, are distilled in huge, dry iron retorts. About 60% is recovered as amber colophony, a high-grade varnish. Another 15—20% becomes amber oil, used in medicines, casting, and the highest grade of varnish. About 2%of the products are distilled acids, such as succinic acid, that are used for medicines and varnishes."
From the following information we can discern that what we now call an "amber" scent is in fact a creation of the perfumers art. It is a creation of the perfumers art which has some connection with the scent of ambergris but with numerous creative additions. In general they are characterized by a warm, powdery, sweet balsamic, rich resinous, somewhat animalic bouquet. Amber has many times been placed in a the Oriental family of perfumes and at other types treated as its own unique category. In either case the amber essence can be broken into several subcategories including Incense Amber, Coniferous Amber, Floral Amber, Spicy Amber, Agarwood/Oud Amber and Musk Amber.
There are two main forms in which such amber essences appear. One is in the solid resinous form and the other as liquid perfume. The solid resinous form is a specialty of Eden Botanical who have done a wonderful job in explaining what Amber Resin really consists of. It would be well worth the readers time to read Will Lapaz's, the owner of Eden Botanicals article on the subject. He has a number of exquisite amber resins available which can also be used in creating ones liquid amber perfumes.
'The fragrant amber, such as Eden Botanicals' Amber Essence (Amber Essence is our trade name for our exclusive amber resin), is a semi-solid mass of tree resins or gums mixed with essential oils, bees wax and fragrant plant powders. Amber resin is not simply a resin that is tapped from a mysterious tree growing somewhere in the Himalayas! If it were there would be a pure amber essential oil, an amber absolute, or an amber co2 extract. Amber resin is always a blend of different ingredients from many different sources. Every manufacturer of amber, or amber oil uses a different blend of ingredients, hence the consistency and aroma varies considerably. Each amber resin maker uses his or her own, unique and secret formula."
--from "About Amber" / Eden Botanicals
In the realm of amber liquid essences the perfumers of India have been creating complex attars for hundreds of years. Each perfumer has their own special formula which often has been handed down from father to son for many generations. The "amberi" family of attars is a branch of the Shamama/Hina family and those who wish to explore the details of how these attars are made can refer to the article:
In the West perfumers have also been creating natural amber perfumes for quite a long time but the technique for creating the base is quite simple as compared to the Indian method. The base generally consists of a blending together the absolutes of benzoin and labdanum with styrax resinoid or eo. Other absolutes or eo can also factor into the base recipe including balsam tolu, balsam peru, etc. I have elected to present a base recipe which is combination of the simple techniques of the West with the complex ones of the East.
A good basic Amber Base can be created by blending-
1 part Benzoin absolute
1 part Styrax eo
1.5 parts Labdanum "amber note" absolute
.5 part Amberi attar
One can of course adjust this formula according to their own unique tastes but before doing so one may wish to wait for a minimum of 1 month because it is very difficult to know what the base will be like until that period is over.
Having created an "amber" base which captures ones vision of what the essence might be-one can then proceed into the realm of "theme" amber perfumes which can have any number of themes; i.e. spicy, incense, floral , musk etc. One may wish to first create an accord of an that can be used in a number of other perfume creations. A few suggestions are given below. One can add 10-25% of each accord to the Amber Base to create a lovely selection of Amber Perfumes. I would suggest starting with 5% and letting 7-14 days pass before adding another 5%. That way one can begin to understand the effect the increasing percentage will have on the perfume. As one senses they are getting near to the ideal concentration of accord in the base they can add more of the accord in 1% increments. It is very important to remember that aging is a key part of the perfume making process and one may not know the full impact of what one has done for 6 months or more and I feel this is particularly true when creating amber, fougere, chypre, or precious wood/roots bases.
.5 part Fir Balsam absolute
1 part Templin/Fir Cone eo
.5 part Blue Spruce absolute
1 part Cypress eo
1 part Grand Fir eo
The question now arises as to have much of the accord to add to the base. My recommendation is that one should start with approximately 10% and gradually work towards 25% of the total or even higher depending on the unique synergy that arises between the base and the accord. For instance if one has made a total of 4 ounces of the amber base they might start with adding .5 ounces of the accord.
Let the two rest together for a week and if one then finds that they wish to have a greater accent of the accord they can add another .25 ounces. Again let the blend rest another week shaking well several times a day. In this way one can work towards the ideal balance between the base and the accord.
It is very important to remember that each accord will have its own unique percentage with the base. The final balance needs to be determined by the person doing the blending. A good deal of restraint needs to be exercised as one approaches the ideal balance because one may not really know the total effect of what they have done for several months.
Here are few other possible accords:
Sandalwood absolute or eo -1 part
Frankincense absolute 1.5 parts
Frankincense eo .5 part
Cassia bark or Cinnamon bark-trace(after blending the sandalwood, frankincense and vetiver add a few drops of Cinnamon. For instance if you have blended together 1 ounce sandalwood, 1.5 ounces Frankincense absolute, .5 ounces of frankincense eo and .5 ounces of Vetiver then add 5-10 drops of cinnamon bark oil)
1 part Ambrette seed co2 or absolute
1.5 parts of Black musk attar
.5 parts Shamama attar
trace of Angelica archangelica co2 or eo
1 part Vanilla abs or co2
.25 parts Rose Otto or Ruh Gulab
.25 parts Orange Blossom absolute
.25parts Ylang superior extract
.5 parts Jasmin sambac CO2
"I slowly become aware of some fragrance in the air, some Eastern scent, frangipane, or jasmine and amber, like at sundown from the clusters hanging low over the walls of Fez or Marrakech. Through the door opposite comes a lithe figure in pale mauve, sleeveless, with wide soft hat.
The hibiscus, the jasmine, the bougainvillea trail overhead. Light fishes served on brown and grey dishes. Pawpaws and mangoes on the table.
Her stories of Indian bazars and Hill stations way up in the Himalayas, and . . . dinner is over.
Her amber fragrance goes to my head, all my British training and self repose has fled, I am throbbing in heart and mind.
Slowly we are poled along a canal cut through the swamp. Our tent is pitched on a rough platform thrown across two dug-out trees; the boys at the other end have built themselves a stove in which a fire burns, fed with green leaves.
The smoke trailing out behind us merges into the haze; a faint odour of benjoin and amber drifts around, breaking the monopoly of the swampy breaths. "
--from Vertical Land
by Le Comte de Janzé
"It could not be that," said Don Quixote, "but thou must have been suffering from cold in the head, or must have smelt thyself; for I know well what would be the scent of that rose among thorns, that lily of the field, that dissolved amber."
--from Don Quixote
by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616)