Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Don’t Read My Lips; Read My Jewelry!

Most often we think of jewelry as beautiful decoration or adornment, but jewelry also has the power to communicate important messages. Recently, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has brought this idea to the spotlight with her book Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box , which has been published in conjunction with the Museum of Arts and Design’s first major exhibition of jewelry from Ms. Albright’s personal collection.

In 1997, Albright was named the first female secretary of state and became, at that time, the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. While serving under President Bill Clinton, first as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and then as secretary of state, Albright became known for wearing brooches that purposefully conveyed her views about the situation at hand.

It all started when Albright criticized Saddam Hussein. Hussein’s poet in residence responded by calling her "an unparalleled serpent." Shortly thereafter, while preparing to meet with Iraqi officials, Albright decided to make a diplomatic statement by wearing a snake pin she happened to have in her jewelry box.

From that day forward, pins became part of Albright's diplomatic communication. She used them to convey all kinds of messages. Lauren Collins, journalist for The New Yorker who profiled Albright’s new book writes, “A stalled negotiation might have elicited from her jewelry box a tortoise in lapis lazuli; a friendly summit, the dandelion with a moonstone for its puff; a contentious encounter, a turquoise wasp or a copper-pincered crab.” Visit TheNewYorker.com to see a slideshow of some of Albright’s pins: Ms. Albright says: "Before long, and without intending it, I found that jewelry had become part of my personal diplomatic arsenal. Former president George H. W. Bush had been known for saying 'Read my lips.' I began urging colleagues and reporters to 'Read my pins.'"

The Huffington Post reports that: “The nation's 64th secretary of state became so famous for her pin diplomacy that when she wore a necklace to a nonpolitical event where she was the featured speaker, the organizer insisted the secretary go out and buy a brooch before taking the podium. Albright, now a professor at Georgetown University, is said to have complied.”

Not surprisingly, Albright’s pin collection is both international and democratic, including not just designer creations, but also family heirlooms and dime-store costume jewelry.

Do you have a piece of jewelry that you wear in certain situations, or that you feel says something about you? Please share your story with us here in the comments. We look forward to “reading” your pins and rings and necklaces too.

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