Today he is a society jeweller, but Raymond Schlager grew up poor, the son of a shoemaker. In Toorak.
It's hard to believe now, but 80 years ago, pockets of the now super-affluent suburb were working class. He says that sometimes his family didn't have enough to eat.
Now after 68 years in the trade he is retiring and selling all his stock - 130 pieces, estimated value about $500,000.
He says his initial objective was to "to make money because I wanted to be warm and put food on the table". You could say he achieved that goal.
Perhaps due to his humble beginnings Mr Schlager, 83, has no airs and graces despite having clients including sheikhs, top tennis players and rock stars such as Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi. He has bought and sold beautiful objects in London, New York and Geneva.
Elton John was a customer for 16 years in the 1980s and '90s - he would summon Mr Schlager to suites at the Hilton Hotel in Jolimont, and purchase pieces for himself and his entourage. On one occasion, the total bill was $122,000.
Mr Schlager had left school at 14 to train with Bourke Street jewellery and art restorer Phillip Hawe. His passion for jewellery was triggered when in 1959 he was contracted by jewellers Kozminsky to repair an "exquisite" jewellery box made of lapis lazuli and coloured diamonds.
He was present when Kozminsky staff sold it to Hollywood star Gregory Peck, who was in Melbourne shooting the movie On the Beach. Peck introduced Mr Schlager to two co-stars - Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire.
Mr Schlager worked for, then co-owned, Kozminsky in the 1970s before running his own store in Royal Arcade for 20 years. The store was robbed four times but each time he chased the culprits "who were bigger than me" and crash-tackled them in the street.
Since 2004, when the shop closed, he has dealt jewels by appointment from a studio above Block Arcade.
Highlights of the auction at Leonard Joel in South Yarra on December 4 include a gold, diamond and enamel presentation box made in the 1850s with a monogram of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, valued at between $120,000 and $180,000.
"It's exquisite workmanship," he says. "No one could make it anymore, because the skills are lost - the hand carving and repousse - raised gold work."
Other highlights of the upcoming auction include a brilliant cut-diamond bracelet by Van Cleef & Arpels, valued at between $80,000 and $120,000, and a three-stone diamond ring with an estimated price range of $90,000 to $150,000.
Mr Schlager plans to spend more time with his children and grandchildren, go diving, swimming and travelling and do charity work.
He will retain an office above Block Arcade, and remain on the board of Royal Arcade.
Viewing ahead of the auction is in Sydney on November 18 and 19, and in Melbourne on November 22-26 and December 2-4.
He is not sad about the auction, he says. It was time for change.
"I feel very free," he says. "Getting rid of all that bloody clobber. And the wonderful things is that I'm not attached to any of it. I can't take it with me, and I can't put it in my coffin."