Madeleine Albright, Who Used Jewelry for Diplomacy, Passes Away at 84


(Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) 


In 1996, President Bill Clinton nominated Madeleine Albright for the first woman as Secretary of State of the United States. Early next year, just before her swearing-in, Secretary Albright acquired for herself a unique pin of an American Eagle soaring bravely with outstretched wings. The piece was an antique of French origin, made of gold, silver, rubies, a single drop saltwater pearl- and a plethora of sparkling, glittering diamonds.  

Throughout her career, Madeleine Albright was known for sporting unique and interesting pins and brooches, to the extent that after retirement 200 pieces of her famous pin collection became a museum exhibit and the basis for a book entitled “Read My Pins,” discussing how she used jewelry as a diplomatic tool. 

Speaking with Susan Stamber she explained that her recognition of the value of jewelry followed an unfortunate diplomatic incident, "This all started when I was ambassador at the U.N. and Saddam Hussein called me a serpent. I had this wonderful antique snake pin. So when we were dealing with Iraq, I wore the snake pin."

In 2010 she was interviewed by Smithsonian Magazine editor Megan Gambino, where she discussed her love of brooches and pins and how she used jewelry in diplomacy and everyday life. She hoped that the collection reflected her good sense of humor, saying “most of the pins are costume jewelry and are supposed to be reflective of whatever issue we’re dealing with or what I’m feeling like on a given day or where I’m going. But mostly it's fun. It's just a good way to get started.” 

She gave a number of anecdotes about her experiences with jewelry. Sometimes they produced humor that reduced tension in a productive way. During negotiations on the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty, she wore a pin that looked a bit like a rocket or a missile. The Russian foreign minister joked to her “Is that one of your missile interceptors you’re wearing?” “Yes,” she responded, “We make them very small. Let's negotiate.” 

They always sent a message, and sometimes it had to be a serious one. When a Russian listening device was found planted in a conference room near her office at the State Department, she wore a “huge bug,” the next time she met with the Russians. “They got the message,” she said. 

She admitted that jewelry can sometimes pack a more powerful punch than one expected (excluding brass knuckles…) During the conflict in Chechnya, while at a summit in Russia accompanying Bill Clinton, she wore a hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkey pin, in reference to the Russian silence on their policy and actions in the conflict. “President Vladimir Putin asked why I was wearing those monkeys. I said, because of your Chechnya policy. He was not amused. I probably went too far.” 

When she was asked which pin was her favorite she said it was one her daughter had made for her when she was five. That piece became part of the exhibition of her pins, so her granddaughter made her a pin with two little hearts. Her granddaughter told her, “This is a replacement heart.”  

Madeleine Albright passed away today, at the age of 84. A major player in later 20th century politics and a source of inspiration to millions, there will never be a replacement for Madeleine Albright, or the massive heart she brought to her fights. Madeleine Albright, you will be missed.