Once the name Golconda was associated with only one thing: pink diamonds. At the end of the 17th century during the great age of the Mughal Empire in India Golconda was mined out and the sparkling vein of rose petal diamonds dried up.
Golconda is also the first of the Joel Arthur Rosenthal fragrances, and if you have never heard of him, that may be because you are not a jewelry collector of very high net worth. Also you missed the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s retrospective of JAR jewelry which I curse myself for missing, because the pieces are so lovely that seeing them just makes your day.
If you are unfamiliar with the JAR fragrances, that is understandable as well because they are hard to find. Sold in only two venues in Paris and New York. Bergdorf Goodman contains a tiny boutique for JAR with the fragrances set out on a table in little glass domes covering suede cloths saturated with each scent. The perfumes are presented to you one by one and after the introduction is made you try to make out what each one is saying. I know what Golconda is saying, something about the watery winking light of pink pave diamonds.
Golconda first and foremost conveys this sense of opulence, not that diamonds have a smell but if pink ones did wouldn’t they smell as Golconda does of carnations and roses? Also, Golconda has only a brief opening note (although my sample is old and may have lost its nose, still I doubt that because of the surprisingly clarity of Golconda). This is the anti-thesis of the scumbled stew of ingredients in mediocre perfumes and is the best carnation scent I have ever smelled. You put your nose directly into a fresh bouquet of florist carnations and roses.
The freshness which becomes apparent after a minute of medicinal oiliness may be due to galbanum or a lily of the valley note but the effect is dewiness. Nothing beats this. I compared Golconda with vintage Bellodgia and that Bellodgia (extract from the mid eighties) was just not in the race, nor are Terracotta Voile d’Ete or Floris’ powdery classic Malmaison or even Guerlain’s Fleur de Feu. (Golconda by the way outlasted the Bellodgia, too.)
The difference, I suspect, is in the quality of the rose and carnation notes used. You can buy carnation essential oil but as you’ve probably already guessed that’s costly. At my last check you could buy 1/8th of an oz. for $35.00 and I would not be surprised if carnation were not in Golconda, the smell of benzyl isoeugenol which is responsible for so many old carnation perfumes (yes, Bellodgia and L’Air du Temps, newer carnations are due to newer materials) is either very discreet here or non existent. As time goes on there may be some clove and some cinnamon in the scent together with rose and a tiny bit of vanilla. When I was at the JAR boutique at Bergdorf’s the gentleman who manned it told me that Golconda had been released in two editions because an ingredient had become unavailable and I smelled both iterations of Golconda and preferred the first one, though both were beautiful carnation fragrances. This wearing is based on a sample from the nineties of vintage Golconda.
The light of these gemstone creations is filtered through the vision of Mr. Rosenthal and that means that the opulence is shattered so that the heaviness of stones is broken up by light. JAR’s startling originality makes the heaviness seem weightless, and the long lived jewels that can pass through so many hands seem brief, almost momentary like flowers or butterflies or dragon flies zipping rapidly out of your range of vision.
There is something similarly beguiling about Golconda due perhaps to its precision and its focus. Possibly the point of a JAR piece or perfume is this quality of minute observation which results in beauty, but at the end of the fragrance I’m left not with the usual slightly flattened carnation, but with a scent I know well, the spicy rose of rugosas which grow in large numbers here by the beach, common as dandelions but wonderful
to smell. A natural confluence of creaminess, vanilla, rose, and clove, so wonderful that only blind luck could create it in the first place. This is one of the rugosas which I think smell somewhat like Golconda. Possibly I break ranks with other people in smelling just about as much rose here as carnation but for me this is the perfect rugosa fragrance, and speaking as a rose nut – I’m delighted. Do I wish I had a bottle? Hell yes, children!