Liberty Brooch

Emily Zilber

Former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is well known for using brooches to make nonverbal political and diplomatic statements. This began when Saddam Hussein referred to her as an “unparalleled serpent” and Albright, then US Ambassador to the United Nations, in response wore a 19th-century golden snake brooch to her next meeting with Iraqi officials.

Dutch designer Gijs Bakker created the Liberty Brooch specifically for Albright, who wore the piece on the cover of the 2009 book Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box, which coincided with a large traveling exhibition of over 200 brooches from the secretary’s collection. In the Liberty Brooch, two watch faces become the eyes of the Statue of Liberty, and a closer look reveals that one is upside down—so that Albright would know how long an appointment had lasted— and the other is right side up—so that a visitor would know when it was time to leave.

At the recent Democratic National Convention, Albright wore a brooch titled Breaking the Glass Ceiling by artist Vivian Shimoyama to watch Hillary Clinton become the first woman nominated as a presidential candidate for a major political party. Albright has also broken glass ceilings: she was the first female Secretary of State when she was appointed in 1997 and, at the time, the highest ranking woman in the history of US government.

Emily Zilber is the Ronald C. and Anita L. Wornick Curator of Contemporary Decorative Arts.