Like her jewelry, Sheila Fleet’s roots on Scotland’s Orkney Island go back generations
“I was born in the Orkney Islands on a small farm in October of 1945,” shares Sheila Fleet via email. “My heritage as an Orcadian goes back many generations, and the islands themselves have a very rich heritage going back to Stone Age times. Through the course of history, people have left their unique marks on the landscape – specifically the Picts, the Celts, and the Vikings.”
Many of those ancient cultures, and the marks they left behind, have inspired her jewelry.
“The Orkney Islands have been described as being like an open-air museum. It has been an amazing and inspirational place for me growing up on a farm, with all of that great history and stunning nature around me. This, I feel, has framed me as a creative person, and gave me a great foundation to build a future in design and crafts.”
Fleet began her career as a self-made entrepreneurial jeweller back in 1993, after studying jewellery design at the Edinburgh College of Art and starting a family with her husband Rick.
“I felt that the time was right, having 26 years of experience behind me in the jewellery industry. Starting my own business gave me the freedom to do things my own way, producing works that reflected my Nordic, Celtic, and Pictish roots.”
Her first design drew inspiration from a Pictish disc found on the tidal island, The Brough of Birsay, and it is still a hot-ticket item today. That piece has since been augmented by several other designs – most inspired by the island’s distinctive beauty – over time.
“I find I still use nature’s wonderful colours, with vibrant, hand-enamelled sea blues for one of my most popular wave designs, called Pentland, and bright green hues for the wild grasses collection. A more recent collection – Seasons – shows spring, summer, autumn, and winter enamel colours that are mixed with 9ct yellow, white, and rose gold leaves.”
Tourism is a large part of the region’s economy, and over the years, Fleet has adapted her business to provide a special treat to those who travel to collect her wares. Today, folks can tour her workshop, where she employs local silversmiths, to better understand and appreciate where their prized pieces come from.
“Our customers around the world have been amazing, continuing to support us with online orders. Living on a small island off the north of Scotland, and being able to reach out to the world via our website and social media channels to market my jewellery collections, is simply amazing.”
“It is wonderful to be part of people’s special moments and help to make them happen.”
Like most small-business owners/operators, Fleet has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; plans to open a new storefront in St. Andrews has been pushed back to Christmas of 2020. Despite the delay, she has been blessed with the help of her son, Martin, and his wife Mairi, to keep the business running as smoothly as possible.
She is eager to see the beaming faces of visitors again, especially as she feels that tourists help Orkney Island to remember its own history as they leave their own mark behind.
“Visitors to the Orkney Islands help support conservation and archaeology, which in turn helps us preserve our local culture for the next generation. Funding for research in modern technology like wind and wave power now sits alongside fishing, farming, and the arts and crafts. Local fiddle music and folklore is also very much alive, with many festivals throughout the year. It is vital that we have the support of tourists, who leave a valuable footprint.”
Fleet adds that the rising popularity in discovering one’s genealogy could also be a great way to get people interested in exploring Orkney, and all of Scotland.