Sometimes, the simplest things can be the most comforting. Ambre Precieux from Maître Parfumeur et Gantier (or “MPG“) is one of those things for me. An instant love, a soothing blanket, an addictive scent with a narcotic hold on me from the very first moment that I tried it and that I keep turning to again and again. Caramel amber with creamy vanilla, smoky incense, and bits of toffee in a lusciously sweet, frothy mix that has been lightly dusted with spices — it’s like a perfume lover’s dream latte, only far better than anything Starbucks could ever put out. In fact, Ambre Precieux is so deeply comforting to me that I ordered a full bottle within moments of sniffing it, and I’ve gone through a rather alarming amount of it in just a short time. You know how people sometimes say that a fragrance makes them want to eat their arm? That is Ambre Precieux for me.
So, when I heard that MPG was coming out with a deeper, richer version of the fragrance — an eau de parfum this time — called Ambre Precieux Ultime, I practically salivated on myself. I had to try it. Immediately. The fact that the Ultime is a limited-edition release and only 1000 bottles were made added to my sense of urgency.
Others felt the same way, too. Ambre Precieux is not only one of the benchmark fragrances in the genre, but a mainstay in many amber lovers’ collection. Such is the love that people feel for the original that several friends of mine rushed to get their hands on the new Ultime, buying full bottles blindly and without regard to the higher price. I didn’t succumb to that extent because I’m wary about blind buys in general — and I’m glad I waited. The two fragrances don’t diverge enormously, but there are some definite, noticeable differences that impact my views of each one. As a result, I thought it would useful to cover both fragrances simultaneously.
The original Ambre Precieux is an eau de toilette that was released in 1988, and soon became an instant classic. There really was nothing else like it at the time. Even Serge Lutens‘ famous, and equally significant, Ambre Sultan came out later, and it is quite a different scent altogether. Ambre Precieux may have been the very first amber soliflore, centered on ambergris as much as labdanum amber, and backed up with heavy amounts of resins, vanilla and some aromatic notes as well. MPG provides the following note list, though it omits the incense which they specifically mention in their description as providing a “mystical facet”:
Top Notes : Myrtle, Lavander.
Heart Notes : Coumarin, Vanilla, Nutmeg, Labdanum Cistus (labdanum amber).
Base Notes : Balm of Peru, Tolu, Grey Amber (ambergris).
The original date of release in 1988 was a long time ago, and the perfume industry is constantly tinkering with things, usually to lower their cost margins, so the fragrance has been reformulated since then. The bottle design has changed to what you see in the image above but, more importantly, the lavender/myrtle top notes have reportedly been weakened quite a bit. I’ve never tried the vintage, unreformulated version, so I can’t speak to the differences myself, but it is pretty unanimous that the fragrance is not the same as it once was. It doesn’t matter to me because, for my tastes and with my lavender issues, I think the current version is fantastic. It’s not perfect, but I love it passionately nonetheless.
Ambre Precieux opens on my skin with rich, deep amber. There is a heavy wave of ambergris with its strong undertones of caramel and a slightly lesser amount of labdanum with its hints of toffee. Both are drenched in vanilla (that seems a lot like a Bourbon vanilla), and then lashed with incense. The end result is golden, lush, smoky, narcotic, addictively rich, and with the sweetness of your favorite vanilla-infused dessert. Like the frothiest latte, it is covered with a sprinkling of spices; there almost seems to be something like cinnamon in addition to the specified nutmeg. The latter is dry, a hair bitter, and a wee bit woody in nature. It tries to cut through the gourmand richness but never quite succeeds. The increasing smokiness of the incense is much more effective, though only to a point.
Lurking at the edges are whiffs of something fresh and aromatic. In the earliest moments, their shape can be vaguely deciphered through the amber fog as myrtle and lavender. The latter is sweet, fresh, and creamy like ice-cream, rather than the dreaded dry lavender of my nightmares with its medicinal, pungently aggressive herbal qualities. The myrtle is so minor, it merely makes you think of something green and natural, like the leaves of the trees. Both elements are thoroughly blanketed by the amber duet, the vanilla, incense, and spiciness, all of which continue to bloom to the point that the fresher, herbal notes are barely noticeable on my skin after the first 25 minutes.
What is interesting to me is how the weather impacted the strength of the top notes. The lavender and myrtle weren’t recognizable in any strongly delineated way when I wore Ambre Precieux during the last weeks of summer. There was a ghostly, nebulous suggestion, at best, a mere idea of something fresh hovering around the far periphery. The summer heat brought out the richer base notes on my skin, and squashed the top ones. Even inside my air-conditioned house, everything was all about the creamy amber, vanilla, incense milkshake. Now, however, in cold weather, the lavender and myrtle mix has suddenly come out of the thick fog, surprising me with their presence and with how perfectly they balance the darker, thicker elements. The incense note is suddenly substantially stronger too, cutting through the vanilla much more, and making the fragrance less sweet as a whole.
Speaking of sweetness, as regular readers know, I am not one for gourmand fragrance. At all. Intentionally gourmand or dessert fragrances are always painfully sugary to me, too cloying, and too gooey. Ambre Precieux is not meant to be anything but an oriental but — for someone like me who has a limited tolerance for sweetness — it reads like a “gourmand.” In fact, it turns out that Ambre Precieux is my ideal version of the genre. Sweetness countered by oriental qualities, and vanilla that doesn’t drip sugared icing like Pink Sugar or a true vanilla soliflore. Here, the vanilla and caramel amber are in perfect harmony, because both are indirectly kept in check by the innate dryness of smoky incense. The fact that there is that tiny, wee hint of something mysteriously aromatic, lavendery, and fresh in the background is part of what adds to the interest or charm. The perfume would be much more boring without it, in my opinion.
By my subjective standards and with my low threshold for extreme sweetness, the end result is the perfect dessert or latte scent — and I can’t get enough of it. Really. I can’t tell you the number of nights I’ve lain in bed, sniffing my arm compulsively, with Ambre Precieux swirling around me like a cloud from my pillows and sheets, and pondering whether I should lick my arm. All of that brings me to my next point which is the paradoxical nature of Ambre Precieux’s sillage and weight.
Ambre Precieux is extremely strong on my skin in its opening hours, more like an eau de parfum than an eau de toilette. Using 2 sprays from an actual bottle, I had 4 inches of sillage at first. During the summer, when the heat made the fragrance bloom, that was 5-6 inches in the opening minutes. With 3+ sprays, the cloud was truly large, indeed. In all cases, though, the numbers start to drop within 30 minutes, then further still by the end of the first hour, resulting in a scent that hovers an inch above the skin for quite a while.
Up close, however, it is very strong and rich, while simultaneously feeling airy. Potent sheerness, you might say. This is where the eau de toilette issue makes itself noticed because Ambre Precieux has a lightness that almost verges on the wispy at times. It isn’t a dense, thick scent, even if the richness of its notes gives you that impression at first. As time progresses, its gauzy nature becomes more evident because this is, ultimately, a soft-bodied scent. Don’t let its projection in the first 30 minutes fool you.
Yet, even when the perfume is hovering one inch above the skin, Ambre Precieux still manages to have a cloud-like effect around me. Tendrils curl and weave all around, even when I’m sitting still. Later, when the perfume is a skin scent, I could swear that I could smell it rippling in the air. I rarely encounter fragrances that are somehow harder to detect up close than afar but Ambre Precieux has this strange way of somehow not appearing to be on my skin, while also bouncing all around me at the same time. I cannot explain it properly, but there is an odd ballooning effect mixed with a ghostly quality during the fragrance’s middle and end stages. My only explanation is that the perfume projects so powerfully from my body in the first 30-60 minutes that it leaves its molecules in the air, creating a presence that remains long after the scent has become a sheer gauze on my skin.
Ambre Precieux doesn’t change significantly from its opening bouquet, and is largely a linear scent. The dark smokiness of the incense, the labdanum, and the vanilla all wax and wane like the tides, but it is largely a question of degree. Almost every part of the fragrance remains the same from start to finish except for two things. First, the fresh, aromatic wisps of the lavender and myrtle vanish entirely after 2.5 hours; and, second, they are replaced by the coumarin which adds a light dusting of sweetened powder around the same time and further underscores my impression of a Starbuck’s latte.
Roughly 3.75 hours into its development, the notes realign themselves in terms of their prominence and strength. Both the caramel quality of the ambergris and the vanilla weaken, while the incense and the labdanum’s dark traits grow stronger. At times, Ambre Precieux feels like it’s primarily labdanum and incense, with only light lashings of ambergris, vanilla, and coumarin. The balance and ratios keep changing, but there is no doubt that the smokiness grows significant enough to muffle the sweeter elements. In the final hours, though, the incense fades and they re-emerge, turning Ambre Precieux into a blur of labdanum and sweet caramel ambergris laced with vanilla and only a touch of incense.
All in all, Ambre Precieux consistently lasts between 9.5 to 11.5 hours, depending on the quantity that I apply, but it is not always an easy scent to detect up close due to that paradoxical sillage/cloud thing that I mentioned earlier. When I use 2 sprays from an actual bottle, Ambre Precieux lasts 9.5 hours and turns into a skin scent at the 3.75 hour mark. Sometimes, after 5.5 hours, it almost feels as though it’s died on me, but the fragrance clings on tenaciously, sending out tendrils of scent despite the fact that I sometimes have to bring my nose right to my arm to detect it up close. The numbers are better with 3 sprays, giving me 11.5 hours for longevity. It takes 4 hours for Ambre Precieux to turn into a skin scent, but the initial projection is huge with about half a foot projection in the first 30 minutes. I happen to be a chronic over-sprayer for my personal usage and outside of testing, but even I go easy on Ambre Precieux unless I intentionally want a large cloud around me. The problem is that I find it such a sheer scent in terms of its body, that I still end up applying 6 sprays at bedtime, as well as some on my sheets.
AMBRE PRECIEUX ULTIME:
Ambre Precieux is so beloved that MPG came up with an Ultime version which it issued last month. There are only 1000 bottles. The fragrance is not meant to be a reinvention of Ambre Precieux, but a deeper, more concentrated version where the ratios of its much-loved base notes have been amplified. It is also an eau de parfum, perhaps to answer the common complaint that the original Ambre Precieux was too thin or sheer.
Ambre Precieux Ultime and its notes are described in a press copy that is quoted by Luckyscent on its website:
Since the inception of Maître Parfumeur et Gantier, Ambre Précieux, one of the star scents of the brand and appreciated as one of the best amber products on the market, has not been modified in its composition. MPG has decided to reimagine this note by doubling its concentration to make the rich woody balms and vanilla stand out while maintaining the balance of the composition. Ambre Précieux Ultime takes you to the gates of the Orient with its sunny yet complex notes. Its rich woody and powdered facets, reminiscent of the one thousand and one nights, will seduce you and become your dearest olfactive treasure.
[Notes:] Myrtle, lavander, coumarine, vanilla, nutmeg, labdanum cistus, incense, balm from Peru, tolu, grey amber.
Ambre Precieux Ultime opens on my skin with amber, a heavy dose of labdanum, vanilla, and a ton of myrtle. Incense follows on their heels, trailed by a good dose of nutmeg spiciness. I’m struck immediately by the differences. The myrtle is whopping here as compared to the nebulous amount in the reformulated Ambre Precieux. The labdanum, too, has been amped up to a large degree, and the spiciness is more noticeable. However, the ambergris with all its caramel deliciousness is much weaker. So is the vanilla, which is rather a shame as I loved that part of the original very much. As a whole, Ambre Precieux Ultime opens as a significantly darker, spicier, smokier scent. The sweetness has been reduced to the point that there is no mistaking Ambre Precieux Ultime for even a quasi-gourmand. This is a pure oriental, period. At the same time, the fragrance has more depth and body, much like an aged wine over a lighter, younger one.
The time when Ambre Precieux Ultime is the most complex and the most different from the original is in its first hour on my skin. So, I thought it might help to give some rough estimate ratios for the notes in each scent and how they compare, putting them on a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is the highest. I have to emphasize, though, that these are very rough numbers, and pertain primarily to the opening phases of the two fragrances.
Myrtle 2.5, Lavender 2.5
Amber at 8.5, then 7.5
Vanilla at 6.5, then 5
Labdanum at 6, then 8
Balsams at 6, then 7
Incense at 5.5, then 6.5
Myrtle 6.5, Lavender 3
Amber at 5.5, then 6
Vanilla at 4, then 5
Incense at 7, then 7.5
Again, these are pretty rough estimates that focus primarily on the first few hours of the fragrances. Furthermore, the prominence or power of the individual notes fluctuate during the middle stages of both perfumes, often from one moment to the next. Lastly, the two fragrances are extremely similar in their drydown, and the greatest divergence after the opening is in their depth, body, fullness and projection. Having said all that, though, I found the opening blast of the two versions to be noticeably different on my skin in terms of the ratios. There is a ton more myrtle freshness, labdanum darkness, and incense smokiness, but not a huge amount of ambergris Caramel Vanilla Latte.
Ambre Precieux Ultime begins to change after 45 minutes. The myrtle starts to weaken, though it never really departs until the start of the 3rd hour. At that point, the coumarin awakens, adding a creamy quality to the base. The fragrance is becoming closer to the original, except it’s deeper, more balsamic, and resinous. Although the caramel undertones of the ambergris are slowly making a comeback, they are still overshadowed by the darker elements in the scent which, as a whole, visually skews brown to me, not gold.
Ambre Precieux Ultime feels like a thicker scent, relatively speaking, but it is also softer in terms of its projection. Using the same amounts as I did for Ambre Precieux original, the Ultime only radiated 2.5 inches at the start. At the end of the 2nd hour and the start of the 3rd, the scent hovered only half an inch. It turned into a true skin scent roughly 4.25 hours into its development. In general, the way fragrances are composed, eau de parfums have a richer concentration than eau de toilettes and can often have greater projection, but not always. Pure parfums or extraits have the least of all. On my skin, Ambre Precieux Ultime feels more like an extrait in terms of its sillage, while the original acted more like an eau de parfum. I have to admit, I was very disappointed with the Ultime’s sillage.
With regard to the longevity, it was merely okay. On occasion, it somehow managed to end up being less than the Eau de Toilette version on me. With 2 sprays, the Ultime generally lasted 8.5 to 9 hours; with 3 sprays, it lasted 9.5 to 10 hours. Those aren’t bad numbers but, given how the regular Ambre Precieux performs on my skin (even when I’m not applying 6 to 8 sprays at bedtime), I had expected more.
If you’re starting to sense disappointment dripping from my words, you wouldn’t be completely mistaken. There is some of that here. It all comes down to my expectations and personal tastes. I had thought the Ultime would be my ideal vanilla-amber scent, one with great sillage as well as the depth that the original lacked. Instead, I found a fragrance that wasn’t particularly vanillic, was more purely oriental than a deliciously balanced quasi-gourmand, and with almost intimate projection and merely okay longevity. While I liked the more full-bodied aspects of the Ultime, I wasn’t so fond of the increased myrtle presence. Yes, I know the unreformulated, original Ambre Precieux had quite a bit of that, but I was always happy with my quiet, almost nebulous wisps.
All of this stems from one thing: my love for the caramel, vanilla amber with its perfect level of sweetness and coziness. Somehow, I had managed to stumble across the ideal “gourmand” (by my standards) mixed with a quasi-vanilla amber. I merely wanted a more concentrated, lusher, heftier version of it. That’s not what I found. Still, the Ultime is a wonderful fragrance, and I’m very happy that I have a large amount of it. There is no disappointment in that regard. I will absolutely wear it, too, but… sprayed on top of my Ambre Precieux. Because, yes, I prefer the regular eau de toilette version. By a long shot.
Even better, the eau de toilette is cheaper. Although the retail price difference isn’t massive ($130 versus $195 for the Ultime, both in 100 ml sizes), you can find Ambre Precieux EDT discounted on a number of sites, like Amazon or eBay, for about $95. If you aren’t finicky about buying unused testers, you could save even more money. I’ve seen unopened Ambre Precieux testers on eBay (without a box) for as low as $62. I bought mine for an utter steal, and there are few things I like more than a bargain. Plus, you can occasionally find the original, unreformulated Ambre Precieux in its diamond-cut bottle on eBay for a good price, and that may appeal to those of you who would enjoy an increased dose of the aromatics in the opening.
If you love the regular Ambre Precieux, it is definitely worth your while to test the Ultime. If you’ve never tried either one, but are an amber lover or someone who enjoys cozy comfort scents, then I think you should try them both. Which one suits you best will come down to your individual preferences, as well as what you’re looking for in terms of a fragrance’s body, depth, and projection. I think you’re bound to love one of them. To guide you, you can turn to the many, many positive comments for Ambre Precieux Original on Fragrantica and Luckyscent, as well the gazillion blog reviews that you will find with easy Googling. For the Ultime, there are a handful of posts on its Fragrantica page, but only one person has actually tried the fragrance and talks about its scent. (Nutshell spoiler: they loved it, and said: “wow! get your nose on this. now.”)
At the end of the day, neither fragrance is complex, revolutionary, or perfect, but I will never be without my Ambre Precieux. Never, ever.