I was sorry to hear about former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s passing last week. Albright was an accomplished academic and savvy diplomat who had the distinction of being the first woman to serve as the nation’s top emissary.
News outlets recounted her myriad achievements and explored her life and character. Her clever use of wearing jewelry to convey her moods and symbolize her stances was also touched upon.
Albright was famous for her many and varied brooches. Smithsonian Magazine ran a story in 2010 that focused on her famous collection of pins. Albright told the magazine her jewelry wearing custom began after the first Gulf War, when she was assigned as an ambassador to the United Nations. Albright said the U.S. had pushed for sanctions against Iraq under Saddam Hussein. She said Iraq’s state-controlled media described her as a serpent. So she wore a snake pin soon afterward. Albright then started to wear “flowers and butterflies and balloons,” on good days and “all kinds of bugs and carnivorous animals” on difficult days, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Albright is certainly not the first woman in history to wear jewelry to make a statement, be it political, religious or just for fun.
Prehistoric people made jewelry from bones, shells, pebbles and bird feathers, according to gemsociety.org. The website states that some jewelry “began as functional objects” like pins that once held clothing together. “Rings and pendants were used for early seals and signs of identification, rank and authority,” states gemsociety.org.
I inherited a few good jewelry pieces from my paternal grandmother, Renee Rifkiss Schneider Greene. Grandma Renee was very Parisian; meaning, she was always well put together and that included her wearing either genuine expensive gemstones or fine costume jewelry. Her favorite pin was a flowering family tree with the birthstones of her children and grandchildren. I loved when she would point out the tiny gold flower with two rubies, symbolizing July’s birthstone for me and my twin sister.
My mother gifted me my maternal grandmother Minnie’s Star of David necklace. I wear it nearly every day. The Star of David is a six-pointed star, like two triangles that are intertwined.
Over the centuries the Star of David has become a precious religious symbol for many Jews as the cross is for most Christians. One theory based in Jewish mysticism about the Star’s significance claims the six points of the star represent six male attributes of God, and the seventh godly attribute, the center of the star, is female.
My daughter, an artist and art teacher, made a collection of glass pins last year. She gave away several as gifts and asked me to select three to keep. One has a dog’s paw print on it, to denote my love for my pets. Another is a blue bird in a tiny cage that reminds me of my daughter’s wedding décor. And one is jade colored with a shadowy form of an owl.
My father used to collect owls and said an owl once helped him escape the Nazis. He was a young teen trying to make his way alone to the south of France to go into hiding. Dad said an owl hooted in the woods one night during his dangerous trek, alerting him to the presence of the enemy. My sister and I honor his memory by often wearing jewelry depicting owls, like owl earrings.
These pieces of jewelry may not be worth much monetarily, but they hold a lot of meaning for me. Much like Albright’s pins did for her.