Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Perfumes and Pomanders

The past months, I have not only beaded and tutified a lot, as you may have understood from my previous post; I have also, somehow,  made an old dream come true.

Precious Pomanders is the easiest design in my series with
dimensional Cellini peyote with flames start
I must have been about 15 when I met with the father of one of my brother's good friends. The man was a nose for the firm Firmenich in Geneva. Ah! creating fragrances - how divine! Of course, I wanted to do that too. My mom seemed not so enthusiastic about it, but during the "professional orientation" meetings which were organized by the Department of Education of the canton, I asked to meet with translators (my other option), and with people working at one of the (still now) major producers of perfumes and fragrances in Geneva, Firmenich or Givaudan.

Together with 2 other students the visit took place at Firmenich. We saw the old labs and facilities (not so attractive, actually), where thousands of graduated phials and other mysterious materials were on display. We also briefly visited the administrative building, where we took a Paternoster, which was an event on its own. This is a Paternoster:

Although it might have been a great way to test people's reactions, or wake them up enough to do a good job (and not blow the lab up with a silly chemical reaction), the dangerous thing has been removed because accidents ought to be avoided everywhere, of course. But I loved it. Being a monkey in Chinese astrology must mean something: as a kid I climbed on every metallic structure when there was one on a play ground and, older, even crawled from one balcony to the other on 3rd floor one day, so this was peanuts.

"Nose" working at an impressive perfume organ
Working in a lab didn't seem very attractive (I don't remember seeing their perfume organs, which was somewhat disappointing), but sitting in a little box as a translator even less, so I already saw myself enter Firmenich for an apprenticeship and was super motivated. Chemistry became my best subject. I loved experimenting and collected miniatures of all perfumes that hit the market.

My first favorite fragrance

Sadly, I did not become a nose, but not because of my nose...
I became an administrative assistant. This was not bad at all, in particular in the pharmaceutical branch and even more the International Union for Conservation of Nature, where infrastructure was/still is very good, but when a book  like "the Perfume" - and later the film- came out, my heart reminded me of my old dream. Fortunately, a visit to the parfumerie and a new flask of Eau de toilette in my bag did somewhat the trick.

Perfume can make you feel better in many ways. It should lift your spirits, makes you feel a stronger, more beautiful you, bring self-confidence. If it doesn't, you haven't chosen the right one. Also, you shouldn't smell much of it yourself. That is the hard thing with a well-chosen perfume: you nearly won't smell it yourself, because it is very much "you". It should feel like an invisible veil magnifying your charms. You won't notice it much, but others sure will. If you smell it yourself, it is either not the right scent, or you put on way too much.

My last bottle of The Beat "died" not long before last Christmas, so I decided to find a new favorite scent, something I had smelled earlier on somebody, "Sì" by Giorgio Armani.

A good perfume should feel like an invisible veil
magnifying your charms, but should not contain
phtalates and other dangerous ingredients.
Fact is: they nearly all do
Delicious, but... perfume can also make people feel really bad. My poor husband had a terrible
 reaction to it and got really sick, and even I felt that something was wrong with it. Browsing the web we discovered that there are many allergic people and that many perfumes are just a big mix of chemical poisons.

Because perfumes always have to be the same, producers rely on chemical essences (artificial scents) to always recreate perfectly the same fragrance. Natural products always differ from one batch to another, due to the weather, soil, temperature and maturity of a plant at harvesting time, etc... I've noticed that essential oils, like eucalyptus, can differ quite a bit depending on the batch, producer, year, geography... Of course, there are chemical products that are harmless, and there are natural products that can provoke skin reactions.

I decided to find out more about perfumes made with essential oils and to go for what I know I can eat. I first searched for matching aromas present in my favorite brands over the past years and wasn't surprised to find several common ingredients, like bergamot, vanilla and mandarin (and always jasmine too, but that is most certainly a culprit for my hubby's allergic reaction, seeing that he can't even bear natural jasmine flowers or alike).

I ordered some oils and extracts - all high quality, organic products, played with them like a real pro - with blotters and all, and...  created a scent that makes me happy. My perfume is a fruity and slightly spicy scent with vanilla, bergamot, rose petals, cardamom and pear, all things that are edible... It smells very good, and it doesn't make my husband sick. Hurray! Also, each time I work with my oils, I feel immediately better, in particular emotionally.

Nicolas Neufchâtel - Portrait of a Woman
holding a Pomander - Detail
Confident that it wouldn't harm the best man in the world, I could finally make what I had planned to make with my dimensional Cellini peyote baubles: Precious Pomanders.

Pomanders are so delightful! Precursors of modern aromatherapy, their name comes from "pomme d'ambre" (Amber apples in French). Very popular during the plague at the end of the Middle Ages, these balls filled with herbs, preserved in a wax-like substance, worn around the neck, wrist, or waist, rapidly became the ultimate accessory jewelry among the wealthy. It can often be seen in portraits, worn by people (men and women) who believed in nearly magic protection. This protection was actually somewhat correct, seeing that many plants have antiseptic properties. Learn more in this interesting article about pomanders, and discover an ancient recipe by Nostradamus, who was primarily a doctor and apothecary, and way ahead of his time in the field of phytotherapy and hygiene, and maybe the reason why Catherine of Medici lived pretty long in those hazardous times.

Pomanders are very practical for people who avoid perfume on their skin, or like to change scent without fear of interactions between two different ones.

A wonderful present: this Orchid Pomander
with May Rose Petals scent is truly heavenly
Glass beads offer enough of a barrier between the oils and the skin, but let the scent emanate well, so a beaded pomander could only be a good idea. All I needed to find was a carrier bead. Not one supporting the bead work to give it a shape, but a bead to carry the oils. I found back colorful felt balls in my drawers, which appear to be perfect for this. Two drops of E.O. per bead are more than enough. I let the beads cure in a glass container, so that the volatile essences went inside the bead. A few days sufficed for the felt beads, which are very porous, but a couple of weeks in the jar would be better for wooden beads.

The fragrance can easily be renewed by adding a drop of oil to the carrier bead through the slits on the side of the pomander. The same scent as the one before should be used.

Tip: you can match the colors of beads with the fragrance - like purple for lavender, red or rose for roses, etc.

I don't know if the oils will affect the coating of the beads in some way. So far everything is fine, but it probably depends a lot on what oils are used. But I can always bead another pomander and change oils. I imagine making them in yellow for lemon, bergamot or vanilla, orange for mandarin, oranges, and cinnamon, maybe a green one with peppermint and eucalyptus,... purple... pink... red... yum. One for every occasion.

Precious Pomander with harmony ball
on long, soft Chirmen cord

In my previous blog post, you may have read that I put a "musical bead" in the fruit punch & gold pomander. It is also called harmony ball or Mexican bola, and is often worn by pregnant women on very long chains or cords so that the ball itself rests on the belly button. It is said that as of 16-20 weeks, the unborn baby will hear the soft chimes sound coming from the harmony ball. The sound is said to soothe the unborn baby and can even have calming benefits for the mother to be. Personally, the sound makes me think of magic and I simply love to play with it. But the baby will remember the sound heard in the safe mother's protecting womb, and that will help him or her soothe when feeling discomfort or stress after birth.

The pomander can also be beautiful bauble for Christmas decorations, or a precious napkin ring if the points are left open. All this is explained in the tutorial.

Thank  you for reading this long post! Please leave a comment below - I love to hear from you.



  1. Paternoster! Ohmigosh! I have fallen and had my skin ripped by an escalator. Those look SO dangerous. Efficient, but dangerous. Your Pomander if beautiful, and I love the idea of a pregnant woman wearing one at her navel with delicate sounds for the baby. adn I love that you have scented your beads! You rock, Cath!

    1. Aw, thank you very much dear Marsha, for reading this long article. I'm happy that you like it, and that you like my work.

  2. I can only add to the previous comment, you are a Renaissance woman for sure. As a younger women I fell for a perfume named Realm. Had pheromones in the mix. I learned that it did not excite the opposite sex, it made the wearer feel terrific about themselves. Scent is very important to the human animal.

    1. Thank you for reading me, Sandra! and for your input. I have heard of this type of additions to perfume to attract the opposite sex too. I think that Kouros from YSL had this at its launch, but later not anymore. Scent is chemistry, and chemistry is amazingly powerful. All our hormones are chemistry. I have a book about it that I don't dare to read (hubby bought it) because as he says: until it's explained, it's magic, when it's explained, it's science.

  3. Thank you for this post, which I found utterly fascinating. I remember reading about “noses” years ago and wishing I could become one! I always enjoy looking at your beadwork, and now I want to tey Pomander. Maybe even experiment with mixing my own scents! (Most commercial ones disappear on me, while an expensive one that I received as a birthday gift turned to rotting garbage when it combined with my skin chemistry.)

    1. Thank you for telling me! Chemicals on the skin can provoke strange reactions and a bad smell is - fortunately - not the worst of them. I too could not wear so many scent for the same reasons (many metallic bead finishes also do not well on my skin), but with the pomander you're safe!

  4. When I heard Paternoster it made me think of the Catholic mass (and heady clove incense that gave me migraines!). Thanks for the background info.


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