Sheila Fleet’s glit­ter­ing plans for Scot­land and the world

The Herald Business - - Front Page -

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.


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

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