Sheila grew up on a farm at Hoxa Head in Orkney with three sisters and two brothers, surrounded by views of the countryside and of the Pentland Firth, the strong tidal strait that separates Orkney from mainland Scotland. Her mother encouraged all of the children to draw and be creative, which had a strong influence 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 with her friend Anna, took Sheila along the coast with them to do some sketching. This was a eureka moment and Sheila decided that art was what she wanted to do.
Connie took some of Sheila’s sketches back to college to show her professor. He was impressed, advising Sheila to create a portfolio and apply to the course. To develop her portfolio Sheila cycled, in all weathers, to catch the bus into Kirkwall to attend nightly art classes.
Sheila was accepted into Edinburgh College of Art, moving to Scotland’s capital city in 1963 to begin her course. During her time in Edinburgh, Sheila joined a lapidary club where she collected, polished and cut stones. This led to her specialising in jewellery and fashion design in her third year at college.
“I was drawn to the idea of taking a craft that would give me a creative future and also helping 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 my first jewellery making experience and where I started my journey.”
Sheila’s talent for designing was recognised throughout her time at college, where she won several awards and bursaries. Graduating in 1967 with a Diploma in Arts and Crafts, Sheila was awarded a postgraduate diploma for a further year’s professional training.
In 1968, after receiving a highly commended postgraduate diploma, Sheila was awarded the Helen A. Rose prize for most promising student. She 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”.
In 1969, after completing her travels, Sheila joined Corocraft, the world’s largest costume jewellery company of the 1960s. She spent eight years working as a designer and modelmaker for Corocraft, and during this time won numerous prizes for her designs in the Goldsmiths, Silversmiths and Jewellers Art Council Competition.
While in London, Sheila met her future husband, Rick, a talented blacksmith and photographer, and in 1977 they relocated to Orkney, where Sheila joined Ortak, a local jewellery company, as their first professional designer and modelmaker.
Eventually, 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 her house, Sheila has built a strong global reputation for her distinctive designs and now has four retail locations across Scotland: two in Orkney (The Kirk Gallery & Café and Kirkwall Gallery), her Edinburgh Gallery in charming Stockbridge, and her Glasgow Gallery in Princes Square on Buchanan Street. Work is also in progress on Sheila's latest project: her St Andrews Gallery, coming soon to the Kingdom of Fife.
Sheila Fleet Jewellery has grown steadily, thanks to Sheila's vision and her enduring ability to create beautiful jewellery that is treasured by her customers. In 2013 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.
In 2013, Rick sadly passed away from Pancreatic Cancer. Many of Rick's superb photographs of Orkney and Scotland continue to be used throughout Sheila's jewellery displays and other marketing material. Sheila’s Daisies at Dawn, Coloured Daisies and Diamond Daisies collections were inspired by a photo taken by Rick and now honour his memory. A contribution from every sale is donated to Pancreatic Cancer Scotland.
Sheila Fleet Jewellery is a family-run business, and Sheila has had the invaluable support of her son, Martin, and her daughter-in-law, Mairi, in the day-to-day running and growth of the business.
Sheila continues to be the sole designer for the business and is constantly adding to her ever-growing number of collections. 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.