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Givaudan Perfumers Keep Artificial Whale Extract for Own Scents

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Oct. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Givaudan SA’s perfume creators have faced down bosses to keep a super-strength artificial version of the world’s rarest perfume ingredient rather than license it to competitors.

The Swiss maker of flavors and fragrances, whose customers include Nestle SA and Danone SA, won’t sell its pine-tree based Ambermax molecule for “at least a couple more years,” Givaudan researcher Felix Flachsmann said in an interview.

Ambermax is the latest chemical effort to recreate the musky, woody qualities of ambergris, which is excreted by sperm whales and counts as one of the most costly and delicate scents. Synthetic alternatives including Firmenich International SA’s Ambrox, Henkel AG’s Ambroxan, and Givaudan’s own Ambrofix have been among the best-selling fragrance ingredients for decades.

Ambermax’s value is hard to define as it is one ingredient among hundreds used by Givaudan’s own in-house perfumers to create colognes, Flachsmann said at his office in Duebendorf, Switzerland. The molecule “could be worth millions” of dollars if sold to third parties, he said.

Artificial Ambergris

The artificial ambergris may be worth less than 5 million Swiss francs ($5.3 million) now, said Jean-Philippe Bertschy, an analyst at Bank Vontobel in Zurich, who has a hold rating on the stock.

The Swiss maker of Gucci Guilty and Boss Bottled Night typically gives in-house perfumers exclusivity on ingredients for two years before selling the molecules to third parties.

Executives at the firm’s fragrance-ingredients unit would now prefer to license the four-year-old molecule to outsiders such as Firmenich and International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., Flachsmann said. Instead, Givaudan is keeping Ambermax because it’s “a huge advantage for our perfumers and beneficial for our perfume sales.”

Natural ambergris is excreted by sperm whales and matures over years into a waxy rock which is picked up by beachcombers. Low-quality ambergris has a “very nasty, nearly fecal type of smell,” even if it may mature over years to develop woody and tobacco notes, Flachsmann said.

In “Moby-Dick,” first published in 1851, Herman Melville described ambergris as “an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale” and said it looks like “ripe Windsor soap, or rich mottled old cheese.”

Warmer and Sensual

Givaudan made Ambermax as a “more signature, warmer and sensual” answer to Symrise AG’s Ambrocenide, Flachsmann said.

“You have to calculate the potential it has for your own perfumers versus what it does to sales and profitability if you add another distribution channel,” Symrise spokesman Bernhard Kott said by telephone. “If uniqueness of positioning is so impressive, you might want to keep it one to two more years captive.”

Scientists have worked on perfecting a synthetic version since the 1950s. The original is no longer used by mainstream perfumers since a ban on the use of animal products. Firmenich pioneered early research and developed the first synthetic ambergris under the trade name Ambrox.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick Winters in Zurich at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at

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