a studio visit to abacus row

Christine Trac is one of the first designers I met when I first moved to San Francisco, seven years ago, and have been following her work since. With background in jewlery design myself, I naturally connected with her minimalist language and simple shapes.


photo: Inbal ithachi


Already in her elementary school days, she was a very creative girl that used to wear her own jewlery, made out of beads. In college she chose to study Environmental Conservation and worked in this field for a few years. She was passionate about starting something of her own, and asked herself in that moment: if she had the opportunity to do whatever she wanted, what would that be? Jewlery, of course! This is how she started her brand Abacus row, ten years ago.


"On day one of my business, I decided on an amount of money to buy beads with and just start creating. I chose three different kinds of beads and designed my first collection only with these three elements. Ten years later, this is still my business core".

photo: Inbal ithachi


photo: Inbal ithachi


Last month I met her in her beautiful showroom in Chinatown to hear her story. Pour yourself some hot tea or coffee and join me in my conversation with Christine.


Where were you born and raised?


Olympia, Washington


Where are you based today and how do you feel it influences your work and connection with the community?


I'm currently based in San Francisco. My work is particularly influenced by the proximity of our studio and shop to Chinatown. I think that being in this neighborhood has really encouraged me to lean into my love of the symbolic elements and characteristics that reflect my Asian heritage and interests. Our annual Lunar New Year pop-up—a symbolic shop of auspicious goods to welcome the new year—in particular, highlights all of this coming together.


photo: Inbal ithachi



photo: Inbal ithachi


photo: Inbal ithachi


photo: Inbal ithachi


photo: Inbal ithachi


photo: Inbal ithachi


Did your artistic path start at a young age?


I had great penmanship as a first-grader. I think from a very early age I had a strong interest in aesthetics and the relative composition of objects to each other. But in general, I think I've always been pretty curious and loved doing many things. It likely explains why my path to this point in time is a little unexpected.


Tell me about your background and how you ended up being a jewelry designer?


I have an academic background in environmental conservation and ethnographic research, with an expertise in rural SW China. I wandered off that path following grad school after a series of unexpected decisions and circumstances. I hate the misconception that I left it because I didn't find fulfillment in what I had previously been doing, and that this company was my dream. It wasn't that simple. I first started Abacus Row at a time when I needed a creative and craft-based project, and I decided to really pursue the business when I needed to take control of my future and be the one person to determine all of my work and life choices. I'm grateful that the decision to bet on myself worked out and has provided an avenue for me to explore my interests in a way that extends beyond what might be expected for a jewelry line.


photo: Andria Lo

photo: Andria Lo

photo: Inbal ithachi


What does your creation process look like and what is your favorite part?


In general, our creation process begins with identifying the materials that we want to work with. From there we explore what's possible. We let the texture, shape, color and other qualities of the material dictate the direction of the design. I avoid setting expectations on what is going to work. It's very much a process of experimentation. Some designs come together easily and it feels obvious. Some I'll take time to sit with because the less obvious or natural compositions for me take time to really evaluate.


What are your brand values?


We believe deeply that thoughtfully designed and crafted work not only celebrates creative contributions to society but is also fundamental to environmentally and socially sustainable practices at all levels in a business' operation.


photo: Inbal ithachi


photo: Inbal ithachi


photo: Inbal ithachi


Which artists influence and inspire you?


Etel Adnan—both her paintings and writings have been the biggest influence and inspiration to my work in recent years. Her use of color really opened up my interest in exploring color interactions. Her writings on displacement tend to resurface repeatedly for me. I'm perhaps still processing much of that.


photo: Inbal ithachi


Good luck Christine and thank you for sharing your creative world with us! Continue celebrating the value of creativity and handmade craft, and continue to be inspired by the small details of life.

Nowadays Christine is working on a secret project with one of her favorite materials , which also connects to her family's heritage and story. I can't wait to see it, what about you?