http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk...-10497372.html

The £7,000 lump of whale vomit that holds the secret to the world's most exotic scent


It might not be most ladies’ first choice of perfume for a night out in the West End, but the intestinal secretion of the sperm whale has long been a secret ingredient in some of the world’s most luxurious fragrances.

Now a kilo of the much-prized “floating gold” – better known as ambergris – is set to go up for auction after it was discovered on the Welsh island of Anglesey by a beachcomber’s dog.

Experts say the waxy grey lump, which smells faintly of the sea, could fetch a five-figure sum when it goes under the hammer later this month at Adam Partridge Auctioneers in Macclesfield, Cheshire.

Its guide price of £5,000 to £7,000 reflects its value to collectors and international perfumiers, who hunt down rare specimens with the same zeal as Captain Ahab and the crew of the Pequod hunted whales in Herman Melville’s novel Moby-****.

Ambergris, which is mainly made up of undigested squid beaks, is so rare that it has long been regarded as one of the most valuable raw materials in perfumery. It is prized for its sweet, marine-like nose and as a fixative that helps a fragrance to retain its subtle scent.

Adam Partridge told The Independent he has been inundated with enquiries from around the world after it became known he had the ambergris at his auction room, where it is being stored in a locked strongroom.

“The story of the discovery is like a fairytale,” he said. “The man’s dog drew his attention to this waxy lump on the beach.

“He remembered seeing something on TV about ambergris and thought it might be worth something, so he brought it in to us.

“Ambergris can be worth as much as gold, but just like gold it very much depends on the purity. The estimates of £5,000 to £7,000 are fairly conservative and if this is of the highest quality, then it could fetch five figures.”

He added: “The major market seems to be the perfume industry and we’ve already had enquiries.

“I was talking to a French perfumier the other day who said it is one of the most valuable natural resources known to man. It isn’t an essential ingredient, but it’s like the cherry on top of the cake.

“He even said it has certain erotic notes, but I don’t think you’d think the same if you took a whiff of it. It looks like a rock from certain angles and it and leaves a residue on your hands like a moisturiser.

“It smells a little of the sea. I guess that, when it is combined with other elements, that’s when it makes certain perfumes more alluring.”

The Ancient Egyptians burnt ambergris as incense and King Charles II ate it with eggs for breakfast. It was also once used as a treatment for headaches, colds and epilepsy. But Alexander Pope once declared that “praise is like ambergris” because too much of it made him feel sickly.

The poet wrote: “A little whiff of it, by snatches, is very agreeable, but when someone holds a whole lump of it to his nose it stinks so much it strikes you down.”

Europe’s top perfumiers are now also stepping away from ambergris and it is banned in many countries. The product is no longer sourced from whaling, but retains dark associations with such exploitation.

The award-winning London-based perfume designer Azzi Glasser, who is famed for her ground-breaking fragrances, said: “Ambergris has a sweetness and depth, and is great for the longevity of the fragrance. But there is also concern about it because it is an animal product. So synthetic variations are used instead nowadays.

“It’s also so difficult to get hold of that there is actually no point in using it. There’s no guarantee that you could get enough and you could end up with two perfumes that were not quite the same. Some buyers outside Europe might be tempted to buy it, but I don’t use it. I like whales.”

Only when the Anglesey ambergris lump goes up for sale will its true value be discovered. A couple who found a 14kg lump while walking on a beach in Australia netted £186,000.

Mr Partridge, whose auction house contains more traditional goods, says he has received a few calls from a number of ambergris collectors. He said: “We’ve had lots of unusual items pass through the doors over the years, but this is by far the weirdest.

“Next time that I’m on a beach, I’m certainly going to be more vigilant. If I was the man who discovered it, I’d be very pleased with my dog.”