First-grade Agarwood (Oud) is one of the most expensive natural raw materials in the world. Distilled from fast disappearing Agarwood trees, Oud commands enormous prices depending on the oil's purity.
However, like myriad men and women who have gone on to achieve greatness, the first chapter in the story of Oud is one of humble beginnings.
Prior to this essential oil securing great cultural and religious significance in ancient civilizations, Agarwood – which at the time was plentiful – was merely used for heating purposes during long, cold winter nights. In hindsight, using Agarwood to light fires was the ancient world’s equivalent of transforming Goût de Diamants’ Champagne into ice-cubes.
However, Agarwood’s fortunes would soon rise from those inauspicious ashes. As early as the eighth century, the Sahih Muslim and the medicinal text the Susruta Samhita noted the healing qualities of Agarwood and its use in medicinal products.
Then, in 1596, Islamic preachers from the Arab Peninsula visited the Indian region of Assam, and were immediately mesmerised by the complex and enchanting scent of the burning Agarwood.
They were given a quantity of the wood to take home, which they gave as presents to various delighted dignitaries and sheikhs.
So pleased were those who received the gifts that they asked one of the preachers to return to India to bring back more Agarwood, offering to pay for the cost of the trip.
However, on his return he encountered a problem. The villagers forbade him from taking any more wood home unless he agreed to marry a local woman.
He agreed, and, from that point on, he was given licence to export Agarwood back to the Arab Peninsula where it was sold at lofty prices.
After his death, the preacher’s son discovered a way to extract the oil from the wood, and soon after he began transforming the resulting product into fragrances.
Fast forward a few hundred years and the processing may have changed, but the desire for Oud certainly hasn’t.
Unfortunately, this unquenchable thirst for Oud has caused a huge depletion of the natural resource.
Since 2000, the trees from which Oud is obtained have been placed on the CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) endangered species list, and their harvesting in the wild has been made illegal.
Demand is insatiable, and growing, and has contributed to the trees in the wild being harvested to near extinction due to their value in Chinese and Middle Eastern cultures, as well as a wide variety of other uses in the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and fragrance industries and beyond.
Stocks are limited, while demand is increasing, and the fact that only seven in every 100 trees produce Oud, and that even those seven can only produce a tiny amount of the magical oil, has led to an unprecedented vulnerability of supply.
It has also created a unique investment and sustainable business opportunity.