Metallic Notes

Metal. You are defined by your toughness and your ability to shine. Mercy is not part of your vocabulary as your heart is colder than ice. It is only under the tease of acetylene that you change your nature to become an orange devil, radiating heat and fear. In that state, your worst enemy is water who can quench your ardor and transform you into glass, in a scary howl. Metal, is it because you slashed the veins of so many beings that your smell curiously reminds us of blood?

Metallic notes often remind us of the smell of blood

Science defines a metal as a solid material, typically hard, shiny, malleable, fusible, and ductile, with good electrical and thermal conductivity. No mention is ever made of its aromatic properties. Is it perhaps because metal is a too generic term for a large family of elements? Didn’t we all experience the smell of a coin heated in our hand or the smell of an overheated pan on the fire? Don’t we talk about metallic notes in perfumery? So what is the smell of metal and do copper, iron, aluminum and others metals actually smell?

Medical poster depicting the human olfactory system. Only when volatile aromatic molecules reach the olfactory receptor do we perceive smells.

I am sorry to disappoint you if you were already searching for your wallet to probe the smell of your coins, but scientists have proven that metals have no smell. Olfaction is based on the capture of volatile molecules by our olfactory receptors located in our nasal cavity. To reach our nose, these molecules must be in a gaseous state and “fly” from the odorous material to our nose through the air. Substances in the liquid phase at room temperature will produce a certain amount of vapor that also behaves like a gas and hence can reach your nose. Lighter odorous molecules will evaporate more easily and create a stronger olfactory response, a sense of stronger smell in our brain. Most metals, except mercury, are in solid phase at room temperature and do not produce any vapor. No metal molecule can ever reach our nose and be interpreted as a smell.

But we did not dream; coins do smell! True, they do, but this smell is actually caused by the evaporation of organic molecules from the surface of the coin. These molecules come from hands and body parts that touched the coin. Scientists have shown that this characteristic smell originates from the molecules of 1-octene-2-one which are produced when our skin touches iron or copper. The funny thing is that because blood contains iron, rubbing blood on our skin will also produce the same molecules and hence give us the same feeling of metallic smell. This metallic note that some of us like so much, is in fact … the smell of blood!

Perfumers have developed their own recipes for creating metallic notes in fragrances, using molecules such as rose oxide, amyl vinyl ketone, nitriles, some aldehydes and other exotic compounds. The nose Antoine Lie is one of best master of these elements.

My picks of the week will be for fragrances with a distinct metallic smell which I love, now with some suspicion of hidden vampirism? Since metallic notes are not mainstream in perfumery, we need to find them in niche houses:

Metal Absolu by Jardin de France

Jardin de France is an old traditional perfume house once known for its Eau de Cologne line and more recently for their exclusive modern fragrances. I love their new collection called SOURCES D’ORIGINE based on the five natural elements of EARTH, WOOD, STONE, LEATHER and METAL. I met the owner of the company, Bertrand Sonnier, in Florence last year where he launched his new collection. Bertrand kindly introduced me his company philosophy and gave me a really great feeling about Jardin de France. I was impressed by the quality and refinement of each of these perfumes and especially loved METAL ABSOLU. The metallic note is clear and razor sharp, and well accompanied by vetiver, woody and green notes as well. Jardin de France sells online as well and proposes some sample kits for sales, you should give them a try.

Odeur 53 from Comme de Garçons. My last acquisition in Tokyo this week. Self-filtered photo.

Comme des Garçons is an alternative fashion brand with eccentric fragrances as well. Odeur 53 and 71 are among the most original scents I have experienced so far and knowing that Odeur 53 was created already in 1998 just amazes me. It is not clear to me if Antoine Lie also participated in this project since he later created other fragrances for CdG which have a similar base as these two. As mentioned on the aluminium pouch in which the fragrance is packed, Odeur 53 includes notes of fresh oxygen, nail polish, flash of metal, cellulosic smell, pure air of high mountains, sand dunes, fire energy, ultimate fusion, wash drying in the wind, burnt rubber, mineral intensity of carbon and flaming rock. I don’t think I could have guessed all of them 😉 but one thing is sure for me: this fragrance is just amazing and addictive. CdG pretends that the scent is composed of 53 different compounds, thus the name.

Equation by Fueguia 1833

I am pretty familiar with Fueguia 1833, but knowing their full line of fragrances is almost mission impossible, as there are just so many of them. A few, however, like Chamber (the hyper mossy-green) and Equation are outstanding by their originality. Equation reveals metallic notes blended with some attractive charcoal and aquatic accords. The description of the fragrance by Julian Bedel adds to the pleasure of the scent; check it in their catalog or on Fragrantica, you won’t be disappointed. I already got a sample of it and will surely order it one of these days, as this juice is obsessive.

La Vierge de Fer by Serge Lutens – a heart note made of iron

My last pick this week goes to the master Serge Lutens, the man who transformed modern perfumery towards a focus on ingredients and forgotten notes, a bit like the wine industry moved from blends to varietal wines. Serge also experimented with metallic notes and gave us Vierge de Fer (Iron Virgin), perhaps in homage to Johan of Arc, or the torture instrument bearing this name. This fragrance launched in 2013 is outstanding and dominated by a note of lily (the lily flower is the symbol of the Kings of France), some hint of pear and a sharp metallic note in the heart. Vierge de Fer is a superb creation, very symbolic and unique in its accords.

That’s it, my friends. It was a great pleasure for me to report about one of my favorite notes in perfumery, the metallic note. As an apprentice perfumer today, my dream is to find one day my personal version of the metallic note, a bit like a quest for the Holy Grail. Until then, I wish you all a great weekend.









About Laurent 70 Articles
Born in Switzerland but lived half of my life in fragrant Asia, I want to share my passion for scents and flavors

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