Ambra (Ambergris)


Physeter macrocephalus (P. catodon) (Physeteridae) Sperm Whale, Cachalot
The legendary ambra (Fr. ambergris, grey amber) is a pathological metabolite of the sperm whale, probably arising from injuries in its intestines as a result of certain food intakes. It is abundant in steroid lipids and has a lower density than water. The odorless triterpene alcohol ambrein is one of its main constituents. When the excreted chunks of ambra (lower left photo) are exposed to sunlight and air at the surface of the sea, a number of oxidation products with a pronounced odor are gradually formed, see diagram.
Ultimately the ambra washes ashore along the ocean coasts. Since antiquity it has been highly valued as a sensualizing fixative in perfumery. It is used as a 3 % tincture (in 90 % ethanol) which has matured by standing over a period of time with occasional shaking. However, nowadays it is a rare item on the perfumer’s shelf.
One of the most important ambra odorants is ambrox. Today it is synthesized from the diterpene sclareol, found in the plant Clary Sage. According to Müller and Lamparsky [5], the powerful and elegant odor of ambrox matches the first four tonalities of aged ambergris tincture: 1. wet mossy forest soil, 2. strong tobacco, 3. balsamic sandalwood, 4. warm animal musk (the last two are: 5. seaweed/ocean, 6. faecal). Ambrox of high quality is marketed as
Cetalox ® by Firmenich and as Ambrofix ® by Givaudan. Samples may be purchased from Perfumers World.
An example of a perfume utilizing ambrox is Drakkar Noir (Guy Laroche 1982) [43].
Etymology: Lat. cetus, whale.

P.S.
For a long time biologists have discussed the purpose of the sperm whale’s grotesquely large nose, which is filled with a liquid wax called spermaceti (because of a superfluous similarity to sperm) and measures one third of the body’s length. Biologists from University of Aarhus in Denmark developed a new kind of acoustic sensors to be used in deep-sea measurements along the coast of northern Norway. The results from five year’s study established definitely, in 2002, that the nose of the sperm whale is a gigantic sound generator, used by the animal as an advanced sonar for locating prey in dives of more than 1000 m’s depth. The sound-generating nose weighing close to 10 tonnes creates an extremely narrow beam of sound with the strongest sound pulses in the animal world – in intensity comparable to those measurable half a metre in front of a powerful riffle [182] [183]. The spermaceti-filled cavities in the nose function as a wave guide, see diagram. Spermaceti consists principally of liquified cetyl palmitate (or n-hexadecyl hexadecanoate). In its pure state, cetyl palmitate forms white, waxy crystals with a melting point of 54°C.

about new, artificial ambra deodorants


Several odorants have been developed with an ambra-like odor. A few examples are shown below. However, although effective in their own way, none of them compete with ambrox in power and beauty.

Sourced & published by Henry Sapiecha

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