Tincturing Ambergris

Since I have time on my break, I decided to start a little tincturing project with New Zealand beach-collected ambergris. I bought a couple of pieces, two grams each, and I purchased an automatic stirrer to run a few hours each day. It will take quite a few months (2-6) before I’ll know if I like the result. I bought one type called White Gold (pictured above) and another type called Antique. The Antique smells softer and less animalic; it is subtly sweet with a dusty incense note. The White Gold seems a bit stronger and has a noticeable animalic note. I’m trying 10% tinctures, which is indulgent for such an expensive ingredient, but I want them to be strong. I’ve smelled 1% and 3% tinctures for sale that seemed weaker than I want.

The magnetic stir machines are ingenious. You put a little stir rod into your bottle (the rod looks like a medicine capsule), and then you turn on the base unit that looks like a hot plate and the bar inside your bottle starts to twirl. Some of the units combine a hot plate with the magnetic stirring, and others just have the stir option. They’re useful for tinctures that benefit from hours of gentle stirring.

We’ll see how these turn out! If one is good I could buy more ambergris. I wouldn’t use it in many formulas, but it can add a beautiful effect to a special offering.

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    1. Me too, Jordan! I started the Antique five days ago, and it already smells better. I was worried at first because it seemed so soft, but the stirring seems to be helping. I’ll sniff and give an update in a few weeks.

          1. Yes, a great read especially the territorial disputes by the professional beach combers. There are certain beaches and they are ‘staked out’. In NZ our grandmothers teach us to beachcomb for ambergris. Out of all the people I know none have found any.

  1. I recently read “Floating Gold” and have always been fascinated by ambergris! I am hoping your tinctures are exactly what you want in the end. Always great to hear little bits about your art! Thank you =)

    1. Thanks, Ramona! I’ve sniffed a few tinctures that didn’t smell like much on their own (presumably they would still have positive effects in a blend), but I was blown away when I got to smell Mandy Aftel’s ambergris tincture. It’s fabulous. I’m hoping mine will turn out to be useful, but we’ll see.

  2. I have recently become entranced with ambergris tincture and perfumes that contain it. I got mine from AbdesSalaam. I will be very interested to read about your further experiments.

      1. I was fascinated by the sillage. It plays tricks. It floats, vanishes, reappears, moves around the room in the subtlest possible way. I knew after experiencing it that I had never sampled a perfume with any significant amount of true ambergris in it. I have tried putting little dabs of ambergris tincture under other scents that I love and it seems to give them that same rich, floaty quality. I can’t wait to see what you do with it.

        1. Most mixed media scents that list ambergris as a note are referring to the synthetic kind, which really doesn’t smell the same. And many all-natural scents that list ambergris as an ingredient use a very tiny bit of a 1% or 3% tincture so that the final amount is extremely small in the blend. I think it can have effects in small amounts, but if you can use a little more it may be more noticeable and more fun. 🙂 Glad you’re enjoying your tincture! That sounds like a good way to use it!

  3. I did a similar thing with New Zealand ambergris along with an interview with the people behind the ambergris.co.nz website. It’s interesting how they were saying that each piece is unique and you can never anticipate how it will tincture based on its odour as a solid. They said in New Zealand, for every major find, the big perfume houses that are interested in purchasing will send a representative over to sample the ambergris before they commit to buy- that way they are sure of the result they will get once the solid has been tinctured. I was tincturing both grey and white ambergris and I had the biggest success with the grey. The white smelled wonderful in solid form but the resulting tincture had a very low odour. If you also work with synthetics I highly recommend IFF’s Grisalva as a replacement for natural ambergris. Ambrox is lovely but I find it doesn’t capture the dirtiness of real ambergris. I hope your tincturing goes well Laurie! I look forward to reading more about the result as the months go by.

    1. Hi Clayton! Let me give a link to your blog post on ambergris because it’s great and would be of interest to anyone who missed it (your blog is extremely well done!):

      I do like grisalva! I like ambroxan too, and many others in that vein. None really seems like natural ambergris to me, but the synthetics are very useful and beautiful in their own way. I’ve used them a lot though and am ready to de-emphasize them for a while, using them as more subtle undercurrents. The synthetics have a lot more power and can easily assert themselves.

      That’s interesting about your experience tincturing gray vs white. My Antique may turn out to be a lighter scent than I’d hoped for, like your white. But the White Gold has a very animalic note that needs to soften for me to like it. The piece is not dark, so I was surprised by the animalic note. I may not have found my ideal piece yet, but we’ll see. The Antique has a gorgeous scent if I can get a strong enough tincture from it.

      Thanks for stopping by! You have a beautiful blog!

      1. Hi Laurie, thanks for the compliment; very flattering from someone like you! I didn’t want to post my link incase it was perceived as self promotion but I am glad you found it relevant to your work. I agree, the synthetic ambergris do not come close. I also received black ambergris to compare with the grey and white but I did not tincture it…wow it smelled beyond animalic…and not in a good way! Sometimes I find real ambergris hard to focus on and the smell drifts in and out…it is very elusive. I am currently working on a fragrance that is a summary of that blog post and the moody black sand beaches of New Zealand’s west coast. It’s turned into a commentary on the salty beach air, more than whales and ambergris but the ambergris note helps me achieve that with ozonics like Sentenal and Ultrazur. The challenge I am currently facing is how to pad this salty base note out with an interesting heart note… melon/muguet and fresh citrus works well but smells like a cliche mid-1990s fragrance. I’m currently playing around with a lilac accord, which sounds like a strange match, but something about the mix is keeping me inspired to dig deeper to see if they can work together!

        Thanks for writing this blog- I love reading the inner musings of perfumers : )

        1. Good luck with your formulas! Have you ever tried Ayala Moriel’s Orcas? I like the way it conjures a woodsy coastal scene without conventional ozonics, but with ambergris and seaweed instead.

          I forgot to mention that I got the ambergris from the same source you got yours, and Adrienne does seem quite helpful.

  4. Oh ambergris! I have never smelled the real stuff until recently. Maggie from Parfums Lalun was so kind as to gift me with a sample of her Qatar Rose perfume and a sample of her ambergris tincture. It was quite translucent in smell and wasn’t that strong. It was more salty skin after the ocean airiness vibe. But combined with the Rose she had added a nice salty and earthy undercoat to the composition. Somewhat similar to the vibe I get from Hermés’ Eau Des Merveilles which uses the synthetic ambroxan. Synthetic or natural they are both very nice. I cannot wait to see what you plan to do with this new tincture! Tincturing ambergris sounds like fun. I need to get me a gram or two of the precious aged whale sputum and have at it too!

    1. You could easily try your own tincture! It is not hard at all. You just need some perfumer’s alcohol. Several places sell it in small quantities for the hobbyist, such as

      Note I have never purchased anything from any of those companies and can’t vouch for them, but I have seen them suggested before to hobbyist perfumers.

      I should give an update soon on my tinctures! Thanks for reminding me!

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