Most people's jewelry just says "bling." Not former Secretary of
State Madeleine Albright's gems. For a meeting with Yasser Arafat,
the message of Ms. Albright's brooch - a two-inch-long gold bee with
diamond-studded wings and garnet eyes - was "sting."
"I spent many hours wrangling with the Palestinian leader about
the need for compromise in the Middle East," she writes in her book,
"Read My Pins: Stories From a Diplomat's Jewel Box" (HarperCollins,
2009). "My pin reflected my mood."
More than 200 pins are displayed at the Museum of Arts and Design
in New York through Jan. 31 in an exhibition titled "Read My Pins:
The Madeleine Albright Collection." The show will travel through
2010 to the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock,
Ark., as well as to venues in Washington, D.C., and Indianapolis,
In introducing her collection, Ms. Albright, reminisced about the
origin of her strategically deployed ornaments. "I clearly have
always liked jewelry, but it had not occurred to me that they could,
in fact, become part of diplomacy. It all began with Saddam
As ambassador to the United Nations in 1994, she pressed Mr.
Hussein to allow weapons inspections, causing an Iraqi newspaper to
label her "an unparalleled serpent." After a meeting on Iraq, "a
gaggle of journalists" saw Ms. Albright sporting a menacing gold
snake pin. When asked why, she answered, "because Saddam Hussein
called me a serpent."
After that, whenever journalists or colleagues asked her mood or
what was on her agenda, she modified President George H.W. Bush's
"Read my lips" quip into "Read my pins." "If we were going to do
happy things or something pleasant, I'd wear flowers and butterflies
and balloons," she says. "On bad days I wore various bugs and
weapons. It obviously became a signaling process."
Albright says she's pleased her collection is characterized by
museum curator David McFadden as " 'small-d' democratic." Although
it includes some antiques and costly materials, most of the pieces
are costume jewelry, chosen for their symbolism.
For a 1999 summit with the Russians, the secretary wore a pin of
the three wise monkeys with their hands clapped over eyes, ears, and
mouth in classic poses to telegraph see, hear, and speak no evil.
Albright explains: "I wore those because I disagreed with what they
were doing in Chechnya. They would not admit to any human rights
Much more than trinkets, the pins - her personal diplomatic
signature - "really have served a very important foreign-policy
mission," she notes. When discussing an antiballistic missile treaty
with Russian foreign minister Igor Ivanov, she wore an arrow-shaped
geometric pin. "Is that one of your interceptors?" Ivanov asked.
"Yes, we make them very small, so it's time to negotiate!" Albright
Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve - or, in this case,
your shoulder! No poker face for this diplomat, whose arsenal of
jewelry became an effective tool. …