Industry / Silver

How Madeleine Albright Turned Pins Into A “Diplomatic Tool”


Madeleine Albright, the first female U.S. Secretary of State who was known for her fondness for—and occasional-strategic use of—pins, died on Wednesday at age 84.

Albright, who ran the U.S. Department of State from 1997 to 2001, owned “hundreds” of brooches—though she preferred the word pins—which she sometimes used as a “diplomatic tool,” she told the GIA Symposium in 2006.

For example, when Iraq’s former ruler, Saddam Hussein, called her an “unparalleled serpent” during her stint as ambassador to the United Nations, she began sporting a snake pin when meeting with Iraqi representatives. After Hussein fell, she wore a snake pin with a dagger through it.

During a meeting about the Middle East, she wore a dove pin given to her by Leah Rabin, the widow of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995.

After Cuban fighter pilots shot down two unarmed civilian aircraft, Albright wore a blue bird pin with its head pointing down, a symbol of mourning for the four Cuban-Americans who were killed.

At one point, Russian president Vladimir Putin confided to U.S. President Bill Clinton that his country’s diplomats would check to see which brooch Albright was wearing, according to a State Department site devoted to Albright’s jewelry.

When the United States was involved in difficult negotiations with Russia regarding nuclear arms, Russia’s foreign minister, Igor Ivanov, looked at Albright’s arrow-like pin, and asked, “Is that one of your interceptor missiles?” according to the site.

Albright replied, “Yes, and as you can see, we know how to make them very small. So you’d better be ready to negotiate.”

“I really have no sin except for buying jewelry,” she told the GIA Symposium, “and I am grateful to GIA for showing me it’s not a sin but a sign of excellent character.

“I have bought jewelry everywhere. If you travel around the world, you see my picture in a lot of stores.”

She often chose her jewelry—which, she admitted, was mostly costume—as a reflection of her mood.

“On good days, I wore flowers and butterflies and balloons,” she told the Smithsonian Institution, “and on bad days, all sorts of insects and carnivorous animals. When people said, on the [United Nations] Security Council, ‘What are we going to do today?’ I said, ‘Read my pins.’ ”

Her jewelry choices became so celebrated that she wrote a book about it, Read My Pins: Stories From a Diplomat’s Jewel Box. The Museum of Arts and Design in New York organized a collection of her pieces—also titled Read My Pins—featuring more than 200 pieces, which eventually traveled to 22 museums. It is now on loan to the National Museum of American Diplomacy.

In 2009, the Jewelry Information Center (now part of Jewelers of America) honored Albright at its eighth annual Gem Awards.

Top: Cover of Read My Pins (photo courtesy of HarperCollins Publishers)

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By: Rob Bates

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