Monday 9th October 2023 marks 30 years since Sheila Fleet established her jewellery business in Orkney. After humble beginnings in a converted shed back in 1993, Sheila now employs a team of skilled craftspeople in her Orkney Workshop, where all her jewellery is designed, made, and shipped all over the world.
The family run business has five retail locations across Scotland: two in Orkney—the Kirkwall Gallery on Bridge Street, and The Kirk Gallery & Café in Tankerness—as well as shops in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and St Andrews. Sheila has built a strong global reputation for her distinctive designs, offering a diverse range of enamel, silver, gold and platinum jewellery and rings, across more than 200 collections.
Orkney, Edinburgh and Beyond
Sheila grew up on a farm at Hoxa Head in South Ronaldsay with three sisters and two brothers, surrounded by views of rolling countryside and the dynamic, dramatic seas of the Pentland Firth. Sheila’s mother encouraged her children to draw and be creative, which had a big impact on Sheila and her sisters, all of them eventually attending Edinburgh College of Art.
Sheila’s older sister, Connie, led the way and on a visit home from college, took Sheila along the coast to do some sketching. This was a eureka moment and Sheila decided that art was what she wanted to do. She was accepted into Edinburgh College of Art, moving to Scotland’s capital city in 1963 to begin her course, and specialising in jewellery and fashion design in her third year:
“I was drawn to the idea of taking a craft that would give me a creative future but also help me earn a living. While cutting and polishing stones at an amateur lapidary club, I set my first stone in a silver ring. That was where I started my journey.”
Graduating in 1967 with a Diploma in Arts and Crafts, Sheila was awarded a postgraduate diploma for a further year’s professional training. Sheila went on to travel extensively around Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, visiting leading designers including Friedrich Becker and Paul G. Hartkopf, an experience Sheila described as unforgettable.
The Jewellery Journey
In 1969, Sheila joined Corocraft, the world’s largest costume jewellery company of the 1960s, and spent eight years working as a designer and modelmaker. While in London, Sheila met her future husband, Rick, a talented blacksmith and photographer, and in 1977 they relocated to Orkney. Sheila joined Ortak as their first professional designer and modelmaker.
After 21 years in the jewellery industry, Sheila decided to go it alone and, in 1993, Sheila Fleet Jewellery was established, originally selling designs from the front porch of Sheila’s house in Tankerness. The company has grown steadily, thanks to Sheila’s vision and enduring ability to create jewellery that is treasured by her customers. Sheila was awarded an OBE in the New Year 2013 Honours for services to the jewellery industry and, a year later, received an honorary degree from Edinburgh College of Art.
Rick sadly passed away from Pancreatic Cancer in 2013, but many of his photographs of Orkney and Scotland continue to be used throughout Sheila’s jewellery displays. Sheila’s Daisies at Dawn, Coloured Daisies and Diamond Daisies collections were inspired by a photo taken by Rick and now honour his memory. These collections have so far raised over £100,000 for Scottish charities.
Sheila continues to design and has two new collections launching this month: Sculpted by Time, based on a design from her college years, and Shells. While Sheila attributes her artistic flair to her mother, she is sure her creative motivation comes from her father. “He was very driven in whatever he did”, says Sheila, “and he never thought of stopping working.” And, just like her father, Sheila has no plans of retiring.