The Orkney jeweller boasting 45 years in the business and an OBE.
By Steve Spear
Sheila Fleet is a one-woman phenomenon. Her recognition on this year’s New Year’s honours list reflects her contribution to the jewellery industry, but could just as easily have cited her boost to her local Orkney economy, her pride in, and support for, British craftspeople, or even her ideas-laced 100-mile-an-hour genial chatter, if you can get an OBE for that sort of thing.
Since graduating in 1968 she has spent 45 years creating fine, locally inspired jewellery for an audience of international buyers.
Her love of nature has marked her out as particularly timeless, with Celtic influences and an unmistakably Orcadian feel bursting through as beautifully as her enthusiasm. This week she has been south and is fuelled by talk of the pop-up shops in Covent Garden, a trip to the breathtaking Stonehenge and the Shard – “the best beautiful building in the world, it’s like a piece of jewellery”.
It could have been anywhere that had moved her though, because everything is a source of inspiration for Sheila, and she does love travel – “we’re Vikings up here, don’t forget”. But it is only when she gets back to Orkney that the creativity is given sufficient repose to bust into action.
“I love it here. I am full of awe for nature and this is where I feel the greatest affinity for it. But it is equally important to keep your finger on the pulse, to know what’s going on in the world and be on top of new tech.”
Earlier this year she was sat one chair from double Olympic charm Mo Farah (a very nice chap apparently) as she collected her OBE as part of the most glittering honours lists in recent years – she was listed next to fellow Scottish OBE Andy Murray. “Imagine that,” she says. “It was a massive surprise. When I got the letter I just assumed that someone was pulling my leg.”
Among the sports stars and fellow worthies there was at least one familiar face, and that belonged to the man who awarded her the medal. “After the walk of honour you stand and get presented by Prince Charles. I said it had been 30 years since I’d last seen him and he corrected me – it hadn’t been that long surely?” Turned out he was right, it was only 25 years since the pair had last met and there had been an earlier meeting too.
She may be in line for more honours if her ideas to improve the world are picked up. She is incredibly passionate about many things – not least of which is local crafts. Having worked as an ambassador for Scotland on tourist missions to North America she came back brimming with ways to better represent local arts and crafts. “Someone should create an app that tourists can use to learn about and find the best local crafts, food and art – be it jewellery or ceramics or whatever. People want these things and we’ll lose them if we’re not careful.” She has already badgered several institutions about this and will, she says, take it to government.
She is equally passionate about the people around her. Her son Martin, who runs the business, his wife Marie, an accountant, and husband Rick, a photographer who provides the images she works from. And she starts listing more names, each with a skill or value that they bring to the business. She employs 55 of them now, and rest assured she mentioned you all.
This Hot 100 Tresor Pasris Trendsetter profile was taken from the Professional Jeweller Hot 100 2013 book. To read the digital book in full, click here.