Jewellery is an amazing accessory. It can transform a plain outfit into sheer glamour. Personally, I never leave the house without it. Today I got a chance to speak with one of the most exciting jewellery designers in the country, Sheila Fleet.
Sheila works from the Orkney Islands designing incredible jewellery that captures the unique and breath taking landscapes of Scotland. Not only are her designs of bespoke beauty, but also high quality. She is one of only two sellers of Scottish Gold; and uses only the best metals and stones for her collections. I found out about Sheila after my (amazing) Grandmother, treated me with her ‘Pentland – Necklet’ for my Birthday. My favourite aspect of Sheila’s jewellery is how alive it appears. The blues in this necklet are really vivid and change in the light so it looks as though it might contain real water. There is something truly curious about her collections that have done an incredible job of capturing our elements, which are a task to tame…especially in Scotland.
When did you realise you wanted to create jewellery inspired by your surroundings?
‘I was brought up looking over green fields to the sea with Orkney’s vast sky above. As I child, I loved playing along the shoreline and I’m sure my interest in rock structure, stone textures, the movement and colours of the sea comes from this early close contact.
In the 1960s, I left Orkney to study at Edinburgh College of Art and went on to work in the jewellery industry for almost a decade before returning home.’ In Orkney, everything around me inspires me to design. Sometimes I can hardly believe my luck that I live and work in such a beautiful place. The sea, land and sky inspire me all the time as does Orkney’s history and archaeology.
Sometimes it’ll be the light reflecting on a sandy beach that inspires me, or the forms of huge sculptural waves after a storm or the shape of a particular headland.
Orkney’s famous monuments are another great source of inspiration and I’ve created collections inspired by Skara Brae, the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. More recently the amazing carvings found at the Ness of Brodgar led me to create two contemporary collections: Brodgar Eye and Lunar.’
When travelling around Germany, Holland and living in London, did you feel like something was missing from your landscape or did you find a new source of inspiration?
‘Wherever I am I appreciate what my surroundings can offer me. Mixing the fast pace of life in London with new concepts is exciting and a chance to catch up with what is on trend and cutting edge. I take the opportunity when I’m in different cities to visit art exhibitions and galleries. I loved the recent exhibition by Alexander McQueen at the V&A – the dress made of long razorfish shells was amazing. I felt very visually connected to this work as these shells can be found on the shore below my Workshop. Everything I see adds to the library of information in my head which I can then draw on and put in the mix for my work.’
The designs although reminiscent of landscape and natural pieces of the environment, are still quite abstract and mysterious, how did you develop this unique approach to design?
‘It’s like handwriting everyone develops their own style and experiences help create your style and who you are.
Forms, textures and colours have always really fascinated me. The Pentland collection, one of my first and most enduringly popular collections, was created after watching the tides surging through the narrow stretch of water separating Orkney from Mainland Scotland. The design tries to capture the flow and turbulence of the tides and as well as the depth of colour in the huge waves.
In contrast, River Ripples is about the wonderful delta style shapes water creates when it meanders down a beach. This collection is fabulous in 18ct yellow gold and enamel – very exotic, especially with a diamond or two! Other designs such as my Lunar collection and Matrix rings are very much about texture.
With Lunar, we melt the surface of the silver or gold then allow it to cool. This creates an interesting natural texture, which highlights the enamel we later apply on top – we achieved really vibrant colours with Lunar Bright! With Matrix we set a range of beautifully coloured gemstones into the textured metal and were very pleased with the results, particularly the ring sets in silver and in gold. We even made an engagement ring and wedding band set with a diamond!
Some of my designs are less abstract though, particularly the flowers. Collections such as Snowdrop, Bluebell, Primula and Daisies everybody recognises. It’s the same for the little creatures like Dragonfly, Starfish and Dolphin.
What is your favourite piece of jewellery and what would you recommend as the perfect holiday accessory this summer?
‘I have three pieces of jewellery that I wear every day: my Runic necklet, Tidal bangle and River Ripples ring. The Runic necklet was one of my early designs and it’s become our business logo. It’s on our shop signs and gift bags. The runes read ‘Reflecting Times Past and Present’.
My Tidal bangle is made of three bands of yellow, white and rose gold. The bands move independently of each other and create different shapes and even music when worn.
My 18ct gold & Ocean enamel Ripple ring is one of my most iconic designs. We’ve had people buy it as a wedding band, as an eternity ring, as a special gift or simply to treat themselves.
As the perfect holiday accessory I’m going to recommend my new summer collection, Sea Motion. It’s inspired by the gentle, mesmeric rippling of a summer sea. It’s very calming to watch and I’ve tried to capture this in the design, the blended colours in the enamel also help create an impression of movement. Beautiful accessory for a walk on the beach!’
If you could use any material to work with, what would it be?
‘Scottish Gold! We are one of only two jewellers authorised to receive Scottish gold from the Cononish mine near Tyndrum in the West of Scotland. The gold comes to us as 18ct yellow gold and 18ct white gold and it’s like a dream come true for me. Now I can offer my customers designer rings, which are mined, designed and made in Scotland.
18ct yellow gold is the most wonderful sumptuous metal. Of all the precious metals we’re working with every day, 18ct yellow gold is the one that best illuminates the colours of enamel. It sends a warm golden glow up through the enamel enriching all the colours of the blended crystals of glass.’
Are you the only designer? Do you have a physical shop and where can people buy these designs outside of the website?
‘I’m the only designer at Sheila Fleet jewellery and I’m as excited about designing today as I was when I did my first design for my business 25 years ago. My days are full of creativity and the bustle of running a business; I never have a dull moment!
We have six shops, two in Orkney, two in Edinburgh, one in Glasgow and one in Loch Lomond then of course there’s our website as well. Our shops are super for showing the quality of our jewellery and for giving customers the opportunity to try on different pieces. Whereas the great thing about the website is that we can reach out to the world from our tiny archipelago islands.’
So here are the links you need. Bring Scotland to you, or someone special. https://sheilafleet.com/
Facebook : @sheliafleetjewellery