By Kendria Smith
The server has returned once again to find our menus unopened and drinks barely touched, as an assortment of small plastic bags is strewed about the table. Each one containing a favored item; rings, bracelets, necklaces, pendants, in an array of precious metals gilded in shimmering shades of enamel. They are pieces from the Sheila Fleet Orkney Designer Jewelry, all intentionally handcrafted to adorn the body as well as capture the beauty and rich culture of her beloved islands of Orkney, Scotland.
Sheila Fleet herself is seated across from me, like a modern-day Mary Poppins, fervently pulling a steady stream of contents from what seems to be bottomless bag of treats. As she does so, Sheila articulates the inspiration and symbolism behind some of her personal favorites. They are culled from over 60 collections that she has produced in her 43 years of award-winning jewelry design.
Sheila’s words conjure up the imagery of rolling emerald hills, the rich azure waves of the North Sea and brilliant sunsets of golden amber and scarlet. Her love for her homeland is clearly reflected in the delicate leaf silhouette of the Rowan Ring and ornate Ogham imprint portrayed on the Skyan Bracelet that embellishes my right hand. Every jewel and gem tone garners my desire for a personal encounter of Orkney’s exquisite landscape that is quickly replacing my current need for sustenance to the chagrin of our weary server.
Sheila Fleet Jewelry
In honor of the fifth annual Scotland-Tartan Week celebrated throughout the U.S. and Canada, the designer has traveled from Scotland to New York City to support her culture as well as promote her line. As we dine “al fresco” at a tiny bistro in Midtown, Sheila shares with me the motivation behind her work and how it’s changed over time.
KS: Since starting your own jewelry line, how many pieces would you say you’ve created?
SF: Wow, I’d say close to 200 pieces by now.
KS: Once inspired, how long does it usually take you to create a new piece?
SF: Some things mull and simmer for a while. I have collections that were ideas I had for two years that eventually came out, and other ideas come straight out and into a collection.
KS: Thanks to the web, your line is accessible and gaining popularity outside of the U.K. As new markets open in other countries, has that changed your inspiration at all?
SF: Well, I haven’t started a cosmopolitan collection yet. Based on my travels, I might be inspired by a particular place or experience and start to do individual one-off pieces in the future instead of a full collection. I might do a piece called “Manhattan in a Taxi” (she laughs), which would be a lovely way to express how I felt while in different environment.
KS: Your line is inspired by the natural surroundings of your home in Orkney, but when you create a new piece, are you designing for the public or for your personal taste?
SF: I actually design what I like and hope that someone out there will like what I’m doing. I do experiment and I create a broad range of jewelry. So after all these years of designing, I know there is someone out there who likes what I’m doing.
KS: Do you design for a specific target market or age group?
SF: I’m the kind of person who likes to have something for everyone, whether you’re a young girl of sixteen or a mature woman in her seventies. So for the younger customer, I designed collections like Primula Scotia and River Ripple in silver, which are very affordable. And I try to price my jewelry to sit comfortable with the price of a good pair of shoes and a nice jacket, which is important in the world of fashion.
KS: How has the recession had any effect on your business and what pieces you choose to create?
SF: Because of the recession, I think we learned to spend more wisely and think about what we really want. I personally love big jewelry in precious metals, but when the price of metal went up because of the ailing economy, I realized that I had to align my current designs accordingly. My Morning Dew collection was created out of the need to scale back in price, while keeping with my original design aesthetic. I released it during the holiday season and it quickly became one of my most popular collections. But if you have a good design and you feel strong enough about it, you should make it. Because all of us women still want to own something special and good quality will win in the end.
Learn more about Sheila Fleet’s history, her creative process and her acclaimed jewelry collection at http://www.sheilafleet.com/