Programme: Jewellery and Fashion; Honorary Degree - Hon MA

Year: 1968; 2014

Programme: Jewellery and Fashion - Diploma, Honorary Degree - Hon MA

Year: 1968, 2014

Seven members of Jewellery and Fashion alumna Sheila Fleet’s family have attended ECA over two generations. It was a 'eureka moment' when playing with her sister's art materials that set Sheila down a path of design, leading to her own line of jewellery and an OBE.

Tell us about your time at Edinburgh College of Art

I had a eureka moment when trying out some pens and inks belonging to my older sister and her friend, both of whom were already at Edinburgh College of Art [ECA]. I decided that this was what I wanted to do and I started evening classes to prepare a portfolio. Getting my acceptance letter from ECA was a special moment.

My interest in rocks, rock structures and textures really began to develop after I joined the Edinburgh Lapidary Club. I learned how to cut and polish stones and enjoyed it so much I chose to specialise in jewellery in my third year. 

My years at ECA in the mid 1960s were a very special and happy time. I graduated with a Diploma in Arts & Crafts in 1967 and an award to do a Post Diploma in London with Andrew Grima, a leading entrepreneur of the time.

Sheila Fleet in Orkney
Image courtesy of Sheila Fleet
Sheila Fleet in Orkney | Image courtesy of Sheila Fleet

""I had a eureka moment when trying out some pens and inks belonging to my older sister...I decided that this was what I wanted to do and I started evening classes to prepare a portfolio. Getting my acceptance letter from ECA was a special moment.""

Sheila Fleet, 1968 Jewellery and Fashion Design alumna

Tell us about your experiences since leaving ECA

I left ECA in the mid 1960s and went on to work with various international companies before establishing my own business in 1993. I can hardly believe Sheila Fleet Jewellery has been going for almost a quarter of a century and that I have been involved in the jewellery industry for half a century! My son, Martin, works in the business with me and I have a skilled team of jewellers making all my designs in the Orkney Workshop. 

My designs are inspired by the ever-changing light, movement and textures of the sea, land and sky around me and by Scotland’s rich heritage. We work with all the precious metals from silver and enamel through to yellow, white and rose gold, palladium and platinum. Hopefully we will be making some rings in Scottish Gold from the Cononish mine before Christmas 2017.

Sheila Fleet - Tidal bracelet in her workshop
Image courtesy of Sheila Fleet
Tidal bracelet in Sheila Fleet's workshop
Making 'Sun and Surf' in the workshop
Image courtesy of Sheila Fleet
Making 'Sun and Surf' in the workshop

Designer rings are one of my specialities. We make rings in all sizes for special occasions and each ring is made to measure, specially for the customer. If a customer can travel to Orkney then they can watch their ring being made in the Orkney Workshop. This is very popular with couples ordering engagement rings and wedding bands or matching ring sets. We take photographs too if requested, which can be a lovely start to the wedding album.

I was very honoured to receive an OBE for services to the jewellery industry in 2013 and an Honorary Degree from ECA through the University of Edinburgh for outstanding design the following year. My three sisters and three nieces, who had also trained at ECA, joined me along with my son and other family members for the award ceremony in Edinburgh. That was a very special day.

We continue to be busy with our shops in Orkney, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Loch Lomond. 2018 promises to be very exciting as we plan to open a unique exhibition area and café in the renovated church beside the Workshop. Follow us on Facebook to get our latest news!

Alumni wisdom

Art college gives you a foundation and training in design. It’s a special time when you are surrounded by other creative people and you are working all day, every day to improve your skills and knowledge. This time should not be wasted. Once you are out of college you have to earn a living, when else do you have so much time to concentrate on developing yourself? On reflection, it was also very exciting to be at art college in London during the swing of the 60s. Life’s a big adventure and I wish you all the very best of luck.