STONES OF DESTINY
Sheila Fleet’s glittering plans for Scotland and the world
ORKNEY does not have to try to stand out. As Nordic as it is Scottish, the islands were seized by the Vikings in the ninth century and made into an earldom that was part of the kingdom of Norway, only becoming Scottish when pledged by Christian I as security against the payment of his daughter Margaret’s dowry, who was betrothed to James III. In an early example of default of national debt (a sadly familiar tale) the money was never paid and the islands stayed in Scottish hands. And of course, the 13thcentury Orkneyinga Saga is more accessible as bedtime reading to Icelandic speakers than anyone now on the islands or the rest of Scotland.
For Sheila Fleet, one of Scotland’s pre-eminent designers and makers of gold, platinum and silver jewellery, the bleakly beautiful islands have been a constant muse and source of inspiration. Brought up on a farm south of Ronaldsay, she now heads the eponymous company that turns over £2.4 million, has concessions in Jenners in Edinburgh and Loch Lomond Shores, Frasers in Glasgow and its own outlet in the capital’s chic Stockbridge – plus growing sales in the US and Canada and on the internet.
The year started on a high note for Fleet, when she was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list, something that she says “amazed and delighted her”. The award was as much for services to Scotland and her tireless promotion of the country’s excellence in the field of design skills as for the success of a company that now employs more than 50 people and was formed in 1993.
“VisitScotland invited me to be their ambassador last year to promote Scotland in the US and Canada and it was a wonderful opportunity to talk about and promote the country,” she says.
Early indications that the Orcadian f armer’s daughter would become a leading jeweller and designer were not obvious. Fleet left school at 15 with no qualifications but with a passion for art and in 1963 went to the Edinburgh College of Art, where she won several bursaries plus a post-diploma for a further year’s professional training in jewellery. This allowed her to work in London with Andrew Grima, a designer who shook up Britain with his bold use of semiprecious stones. His famous energy, generosity and dislike of mediocrity had a formative effect on Fleet, who found herself in the London of 1968: with the Rolling Stones, Carnaby Street and Mary Quant, a world in which Britain was the global leader in style and one that Fleet believes can still inspire today’s generation of designers.
‘ THE GOVERNMENT COULD TAKE SOME LESSONS: WE CAN CREATE OUR WAY OUT OF RECESSION’
Sheila Fleet OBE, honoured for her services in promoting Scotland, as well as her design success, is pictured at the Ring of Brodgar, on her Orkney home