The art of political, diplomatic jewelry

Bellevue Arts Museum opens new exhibit 'Read My Pins' a collection of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's brooches. Albright, who was in Bellevue this week discussed the significance of some of her favorite pins.

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said wearing pins started out as a response to criticism from Saddam Hussein.

The first female Secretary of State was well known for her political displays through jewelry, many of which are on display now through June 7 at the Bellevue Arts Museum.

It all started in 1994 when Madeleine Albright, serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, criticized Saddam Hussein and the government-controlled Iraqi paper responded by calling her “an unparalleled serpent.”

Albright said she took the opportunity to make a “diplomatic statement” by wearing a snake pin, despite her distaste for the slithering creatures.

Her message was clear, resonating back to the American Revolution, “Don’t Tread on Me!” From that day forward, Albright said pins became a major part of her diplomatic signature.

Years later, Russian President Vladimir Putin confided to then-president Bill Clinton that his country’s diplomats routinely checked to see which brooch Albright was wearing. On day one of nuclear arms discussions, Igor Ivanov, Russia’s foreign minister, looked at the arrow-like pin sitting atop Albright’s jacket.

“Is that one of your interceptor missiles?” he asked her. She replied, “Yes, and as you can see, we know how to make them very small. So you’d better be ready to negotiate.”

With that same magnetism, Albright walked through the new exhibit sharing the stories of some of her favorite pins.

Pointing to a large red, white and blue brooch, Albright said she chose to wear it while meeting with North Korea’s then-leader Kim Jong-il during a negotiation trip.

“I was told he was crazy and a pervert,” she said. “He wasn’t crazy.”

Her diplomatic diffusion gave her the ability to succeed where others couldn’t and, through her political fashion, garnered the respect of nearly everyone she met.

Stefano Catalani, art director for the Bellevue Arts Museum, said the exhibit represents so much more than pins.

“It speaks to the power of jewelry, not just the political statements, but a powerful tool for communication,” he said of the collection.

On Thursday, Albright met with dozens of students from Bellevue’s six high schools to discuss the significance of her pins, something she’s done at each of the exhibit stops.

For more information about the exhibit or the museum, visit


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