What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Friday, May 28, 2010


Amber is probably one of the most confusing terms in perfumery. It is used to refer to at least three completely different classes of scents, one of which is an accord (mixture) made of highly variable materials including benzoin, vanilla, labdanum, and a host of other things. The components of the “amber” accord can be either natural or synthetic. This accord in all its various guises is by far the most common “amber” in perfumery and is used as a base in a wide variety of perfumes, including orientals. I have formulated my own signature amber accord that I use alone when I'm craving a big dose of labdanum, or as a base in other perfumes. It seems that amber accords are often sold with the claim that they are the “essential oil of amber” even though the components have nothing to do with true amber.

“Amber” is also sometimes used to refer to ambergris, real or synthetic. My impression, from what I’ve read and from the perfumes with an ambergris note that I’ve sampled, is that ambergris has a salty, ocean-like, animalic scent that bears no resemblance to the amber accord. At some point I want to get my hands on some real, pure ambergris to try, but it’s not that easy to come by, especially on a limited budget, since it depends on sperm whales coughing it up and letting it age for a long time in the ocean before it washes up somewhere on a beach.

True amber, the one that we see in jewelry, is actually fossilized tree resin, sap secreted by plants millions of years ago and gradually petrified. Sometimes it contains insects or other inclusions. Scientists have even found bees with orchid pollen on their backs embedded in amber. Some time back I acquired a small vial of fossilized amber oil from Eden Botanicals, and have since gone on to purchase enough to use in formulating a perfume. According to their website, this oil is extracted from “Himalayan fossilized tree resin (35,000,000 years old) and found at an elevation of about 2,500 meters”. The oil is dark brown and extremely viscous. It has a distinctive smoky, slightly resinous scent that will make a unique perfume base. It’s a little like the ashes of a campfire and a little like the rosin that I remember my mother using on her violin bow. One of my current projects is to create a limited edition all-natural perfume using fossilized amber as the featured note.

The thought of wearing perfume that contains sap from long-extinct plants that grew in prehistoric times seems daunting until I think about the fact that prehistoric plant materials are burned every day in enormous quantities in petroleum products and coal. OK, so much for that mystique. I prefer to think of fossilized amber oil as a liquid jewel, the spirit of those ancient trees that shed their blood into the primordial ooze, where it turned to stone. I may call the perfume "Petrified Forest", but am open to suggestions.


  1. It sure aint cheap that amber oil from Eden... Is it worth the investment by now in your estimation? Anymore descriptives for us?

  2. I didn't see this comment earlier, so am just now getting around to answering it. Yeah, the amber oil from Eden ain't cheap, but I managed to get it while they had it on sale. It's very concentrated, so a little goes a long way. My first reaction is that it probably isn't worth the price, but will withhold judgment until I've actually used it in a fragrance. It does have a nice smoky, resiny scent, but I think there are other cheaper things that could be combined to produce a similar note. More to come soon.

  3. hi..well said “Himalayan fossilized tree resin (35,000,000 years old) and found at an elevation of about 2,500 meters”.

    I have similar kind of raw amber.
    looking to sell in international market.
    need more details...mail me on sanjayschavan@kanewoodgroup.com


  4. Hi...we appreaciate your research efforts and since you have keen interest in studying amber we have Himalayan amber in our custody.

    If you are interested we can send you some sample for your research work.

    In case you are inclined let us know the detail address of your place so as to send the sample.

    Warm Regards

  5. Dear Ellen,

    I was wandering if you ever got around to making that amber fragrance? We at Amber Group Corp. are very interested in furthering the use of natural amber in perfume, but we don't know of any company that sells the properly distilled and reduced product. As far as we know, most companies sell pure amber oil, which is obtained by dry distillation of amber. Amber oil is very similar to crude oil in character and smell. It is not something most people would want to use in perfume as is. The proper way to use amber in perfume is to take amber oil and reduce it with fuming nitric acid. This is a very dangerous procedure and should only be done in a proper lab. The result is artificial musk, a very nice fragrant solids which can be easily dissolved in other oils. We are working on contracting a lab to produce some of this material for us, so that we can supply your trade with this product. As you have noticed, amber oil is not cheap, but the fragrance produced with proper procedure is worth it! If anyone would like to receive a free sample, please email us. Use the contact form on amberstore.ru or ambergc.com

    1. Hi Roman, I have used fossilized amber in one of my fragrances, but never got around to making the amber fragrance that I mentioned here. Thank you for reminding me. I would be interested in smelling a sample of your product.