The Time Bandit

Written by David Kushner, Insider

Sunday February 4th, 2024

The rise and fall of America's fIashiest dealer in luxury watches

Just after dark, the most wanted man on Reddit slipped into his secret lair: a storage locker behind a Gold’s Gym in Venice, California. “I’ve got another storage unit full of merch,” Anthony Farrer told me as I followed him inside. “I still have a ton of followers.”

Farrer is better known as the Timepiece Gentleman, the flashiest online dealer in the $75 billion luxury watch trade. Chiseled and steely like his hero Mark Wahlberg, whom he resembles enough to have earned the nickname Marky Mark in high school, the 35-year-old Texan was wearing long black shorts, a tight black T-shirt, and a snappy black TPG cap on his closely shorn head. During the COVID timepiece boom, when guys rich on crypto and locked down during the pandemic were blowing millions on six-figure Rolexes and Patek Philippes, Farrer became internet famous for his flex videos: private jets, sushi feasts, and doing doughnuts in his $170,000 cherry-red Audi R8 in an Office Depot parking lot (until a weary security guard asked him to leave). Amassing tens of thousands of fans on Instagram and YouTube, he opened up the notoriously shady world of watch sales, showing viewers how he evaluated watches, made deals, and busted counterfeit sellers. “It was something people had never seen,” says Roman Sharf, a veteran watch dealer. “He literally lifted up the curtain of this multibillion-dollar industry that has never been shown before.”

Now, inside his storage locker, Farrer showed me his inventory of Timepiece Gentleman swag: branded hoodies (“made in the same factory as Balenciaga and Prada”), custom leather wristwatch attaches (“high-quality $1,200 briefcases”), and signature black marble watch stands (“for when you’re sitting at your desk and don’t want to get scratches all over your watch”). But stacked neatly on a far shelf were tokens of his current, considerably less glamorous reality: cans of tuna fish, bars of soap, a couple of pillows, and a sleeping bag. The man who once made headlines for renting LA’s most expensive apartment — a downtown penthouse he rented for $90,000 a month — was now homeless. “I can’t afford to keep spending money,” he told me. “So I just sleep on the beach.” For the past two weeks he’d been living off his stash of canned food, showering at Gold’s, and crashing in a lifeguard stand on Venice Beach. “I haven’t had sushi for three months,” he lamented.

Farrer was on the run. According to the FBI, the Timepiece Gentlemen financed his lavish lifestyle by running a “luxury watch Ponzi-type scheme.” Using the internet, the authorities said, Farrer had conned his wealthy buyers out of millions, taking their watches to sell on consignment and then using the proceeds to buy more watches, all in a desperate race to keep ahead of his creditors. A foster kid from backwoods Texas, Farrer had broken into the rarefied world of luxury timepieces, defying its unwritten rules and exposing its sleaziest secrets. But in the process, he had relied on techniques that were dubious at best and criminal at worst. Small wonder that the sleuths on Reddit, who had been working for years to bring him down, had given him a nickname befitting a scam artist: the Wolf of Watch Street.

“People think I’m such a monster,” Farrer told me as he lowered the door of his storage unit and secured it with a lock. “But I don’t want one little failure to erase everything I’ve done.”

The next day, FBI agents stormed the locker and arrested Farrer on 11 counts of wire and mail fraud.

Farrer got his first watch around the time he pulled two butcher knives on his dad. It was 2005 and Farrer, 17, was living with his foster parents in the cowpoke town of Sherman, Texas. The watch, which he bought with $120 from his paycheck at Buffalo Wild Wings, was a Fossil, with a dial that blinked blue and green. The knives, one in each hand, were of unknown provenance.

According to the police report, Farrer insisted he’d pulled the knives in self-defense after his father hit him in the face for not fixing a fence. It was, he told me, a reaction to years of recriminations and restrictions from his dad. “Instead of me being afraid of him, I wanted him to be afraid of me for once,” he said. “I wasn’t actually ever going to stab somebody.” His parents told the police their son had shoved his dad first and threatened to kill him. Farrer was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, resulting in another of his many stints behind bars.

By his own account, Farrer was an angry kid. Angry his parents were too strict. Angry he couldn’t be like the popular teens he saw on TV. Angry for reasons he couldn’t explain. At first, he poured his fury into the gym, getting hooked on working out. Then his twin brother, Cameron, died in a motorcycle crash, and something inside him snapped. “I wanted to bury that trauma,” he recalled. “I went off the deep end.” For years he was in and out of jail for DUIs, drunken brawls, and high-speed chases with the police.

But through it all, he always came home to his watches. Collecting them had become an obsession. “I had them for every different outfit, every different occasion,” he told me. It was an expensive hobby for a poor kid from the sticks. So he paid for them with one of the few employment options he could find as a young ex-con. While working as a dancer in a gay bar in Dallas, Farrer gave “erotic massages” to clients under the alias Travis Baker. Before long, he wasn’t just wearing pricey watches on his hard-working wrists — he discovered they could provide him with a lucrative side hustle. Flipping a single Breitling Superocean Heritage chronograph earned him $1,000 — more than several happy endings combined.

In 2018, Farrer was freshly out of prison after another DUI. He’d missed the death of his mother and the birth of his son. Dead broke and saddled with an ankle monitor, he decided to reinvent himself in the one place where you could create an entirely new identity, free of charge: the internet. All he needed was the right name for his luxury watch business — something distinctive, something memorable. “Because one day,” he imagined, “I’m going to build this account up to the point where someone’s going to walk up and call me by my Instagram handle.” In his mind, he pictured what the ultimate luxury watch dealer would look like. “An eligible bachelor,” he thought. “A wealthy guy in his penthouse apartment somewhere.”

And with that, Anthony Farrer transformed himself into the Timepiece Gentleman.

The gray market for luxury watches has come a long way from sleazy dudes hawking Rolexes in Times Square. Inspired by the flashy collectors they see on social media, a new generation of aficionados is spending billions on watches as alternative investments that outperform the S&P. According to a recent report by Boston Consulting Group, the average price of high-end timepieces grew by 20% over the past five years. And today, nearly one-third of all luxury watch purchases, an estimated $22 billion worth, are pre-owned. While the secondhand trade isn’t illegal, it is unregulated, which means anyone with an Instagram account and some fancy watch shots can start slinging jewelry. And that sounded like a hell of an opportunity to Anthony Farrer.

To launch his career as the Timepiece Gentleman, Farrer boned up on the jargon of horology, from escape wheels and spring barrels to flinques and guilloches. It’s a time-honored part of watch sales: Buyers love to feel they’re being initiated into a world with its own specialized language, the mark of a true connoisseur. Farrer also studied online courses on the watch business and social-media marketing, immersing himself in sales techniques. Then, each night, he would grab a black backpack stuffed full of watches and head to the bar of a steakhouse in Dallas. But he wasn’t going to drink — he was still on probation, and staying sober. He was going to hustle.

It started with the buyers. The luxury watch crowd isn’t just big-name celebrities like Mark Wahlberg and Kevin Hart. It’s guys who made their money as roofers, as plumbers — people, Farrer realized, who “came from nothing,” just as he did. He gauged his targets by their drinks and their timepieces — approaching only those swilling top-shelf booze and sporting high-end watches. Then he’d move in.

“I’d position myself to the right-hand side of them, so they could see my watch,” he explained. “That was my goal. Every time I reach for my water, my watch is constantly in their way. And I would just wait. I would always let them initiate. And as soon as they initiate a conversation, then I open up for dialogue.”

With his YouTube-schooled schmoozing techniques, Farrer told a good tale to the Texans at the bar: small-town kid in the big city, flipping his only watch after prison for a thousand bucks, now dealing to other good old boys like himself as a way to redeem himself from his criminal past. It didn’t matter that he didn’t have a retail store, let alone any inventory. He had the internet. Using photos of other people’s stock, he flooded Craigslist and Instagram with timepieces he passed off as his own. He also broke a taboo of the secondary watch trade, which thrived on markups, by posting the actual retail price of each watch. Buyers liked the transparency. Before long, he had more than 35,000 followers. “For a watch account, that was the equivalent of some hot chick having 3 million followers,” he boasts. “Except I made money.”

To jack his profile even higher, Farrer hired a videographer, Darby McVay, to follow him around and create a Timepiece Gentleman series on YouTube. Despite the staggering size of the luxury watch trade, nobody had thought to market its glamour and mystique. Farrer saw an opportunity to trade on his tale of personal recovery, take buyers behind the scenes, and create an online version of “Selling Sunset” for the horological set. “I wanted to go behind closed doors,” he says.

Farrer had met McVay and his girlfriend, Liz Guilliams, a tatted-up couple who filmed local influencers and fitness models, through a model he’d been dating. Guilliams, who became Farrer’s personal assistant, thought he had a flair for making his geeky hobby seem cool. “He talks about it like how a sneakerhead talks about shoes,” she told me. “He just breaks it down in a way that makes it cool.”

In the YouTube series, the camera follows Farrer as he explains the tricks of the trade and luxuriates in the watch-mogul lifestyle — dropping $18,000 at one of Salt Bae’s restaurants, zipping around Dallas in a black Lamborghini. The combination of insider insights and luxury living proved intoxicating; before long, the Timepiece Gentleman channel had more than 110,000 subscribers. And the more attention Farrer got, the more he wanted. “I spent 15 hours a day on social media,” he said. “If I made a post, I would sit there for two hours and respond to every single comment.”

His timing, as it were, proved impeccable. At the time, crypto fortunes were starting to pour into the secondary watch market, generating a wealth of new customers. “You’ve got young kids making a lot of money,” Farrer said. “And now they want to flex.” By 2021, he was pulling in $4 million a month. He promised that customers would soon be able to purchase his watches at a storefront in Dallas — which already had his name frosted on the door.

But not everyone was buying the Timepiece Gentleman’s act. A real-estate developer and watch collector in Dallas who goes by his Reddit nickname, Crimepiece, recalls feeling highly suspicious of Farrer when he met him at a Starbucks to buy a watch. “I realized this guy doesn’t know anything about watches,” Crimepiece says. “I got a really creepy vibe from him.”

It seemed his suspicions were right. On June 29, 2021, Farrer’s social-media accounts suddenly all went dark. So did his storefront, down to the gilt logo that had been scraped off the door. A headline on the trade site Watch Collecting Lifestyle confirmed everyone’s fears: “The Timepiece Gentleman Seems to Have Vanished with Millions of Dollars.”

The Blackout, as it came to be known among watch nerds on Reddit, turned out to be a publicity stunt gone wrong. The idea had seemed novel to Farrer: Go dark for a week while working with local charities, then reopen to reveal the good work he’d done. Instead, people thought he’d stolen their cash and split. “We knew people were going to talk about it,” Farrer said. “We had no idea it was going to happen so fast — or so negatively.”

One well-known watch dealer who was horrified by the Blackout was Sharf, the veteran watch dealer. “The intent was good,” he told me, “but the execution was terrible.” A fast-talking Russian with an encyclopedic mind for horology, Sharf had become something of a godfather to Farrer, vouching for him to experienced dealers and appearing in his YouTube videos. But now he told his star pupil that he had violated the most important tenet of the gray-market watch business: trust. “This is a very, very small world,” he told Farrer. “What one does reflects bad on others.”

But for Farrer, there was no such thing as bad press. “A bunch of dealers got mad, but I don’t care about them,” he told me. “The whole world knew who we were after that. Everyone in the watch industry had now heard of our name.” Fueled by the attention, he began to see himself as the biggest name in luxury watches. “It definitely boosted his ego to a dangerous point,” recalled McVay, the videographer. To teach others the tricks of the trade — and to generate a new source of revenue — Farrer began offering coaching courses online. “He was like the bad boy of the watch industry,” said Guilliams.

Riding high on the notoriety from the Blackout, Farrer decided to move his watch business to the most dazzling market of all: the celebrity-filled world of Los Angeles. In Dallas, it was tough to sell a watch for $100,000. In LA, buyers routinely shelled out six figures for a single timepiece. “It seemed like money was endless out here,” Farrer said. Plus, the sushi was to die for. “I’m going to Nobu Malibu for lunch to sell a watch,” he recalled. “I’m making 10 grand, and then we’re driving over to Santa Monica right by the beach, sell another watch, have another sushi somewhere else.” He rented what was billed as the most expensive apartment in town, a 19,000-square-foot, two-level penthouse complete with a rock-climbing wall, three bars, and a panoramic view of the city — the fantasy apartment he’d always imagined the Timepiece Gentleman living in. He told a local real-estate magazine that he planned to put a million dollars into the place to add a spa, a sauna, and four outdoor lounges, each boasting a different landscape. “A purveyor of luxury goods is bringing Texas-sized ambitions to Downtown Los Angeles,” the magazine effused.

But to those inside Farrer’s world, his ambitions — and numbers — didn’t add up. “You don’t get Ferraris and Lamborghinis selling watches with these slim, slim margins,” Crimepiece told me. Those around Farrer tried to warn him that his luxury lifestyle was unsustainable. “Everyone told him it was stupid,” McVay recalled. But Farrer said he had received a million-dollar infusion from an anonymous investor, who featured prominently — through a Darth Vader-sounding voice changer — in various Timepiece Gentleman videos. Farrer raised millions more by selling his personal collection of watches, and he planned to rent out the penthouse for parties.

But then his past caught up with him. Ever since the Blackout, Farrer watchers on Reddit had been digging into his personal history, looking for dirt on the man they derisively called Coach, for his hammy training videos. In March 2022, on the morning of his 34th birthday, Farrer woke to a screenshot on Reddit of his shirtless ad from his days. There he was as Travis Baker, advertising “Sensual and Erotic massages,” flaunting his washboard abs and a plate of brisket strategically shielding his groin. The Redditor’s caption: “I’m Speechless.”

For Farrer, however, shock quickly gave way to relief. “It was almost like this weight lifted off my shoulder,” he told me. “The biggest secret I had in my life is out.” Before the Reddit post, Guilliams said, Farrer always seemed like a “robot,” a quality he himself admits to. “I’m very good at suppressing emotion,” he said. But after the massage ad hit the internet, his vulnerability made him seem more human. “If any of y’all like don’t want to be here,” he told his team, “if y’all don’t want be my friend because of it, I totally understand.” Instead, Guilliams and McVay stuck by his side. Along with others on the team, they lived and worked in a sprawling house in the Hollywood Hills that Farrer was renting for $50,000 a month.

Late one night, as Guilliams was getting ready for bed, she saw something that terrified her. “I was naked and putting lotion on, watching TV with my back to the window,” she recalled, when she spotted someone standing in the garden and looking up at her. “There’s someone outside!” she screamed. When she and Farrer raced outside, they found the back gate open.

A few nights later, as Guilliams was watching TV in bed with McVay, they heard Farrer screaming: “Help me! Wake up!” They found him shaking in his underwear, his hands and feet zip-tied. He told them he’d been woken by four men in black, pointing guns at him and demanding his watches. Farrer wasn’t very secure about his inventory: Rather than locking his collection in a safe at night, he often kept his watches on display by his bed. “I just like looking at them,” he told me. Even after Guilliams spotted the stranger in the garden, Farrer kept $2.5 million worth of watches in a briefcase behind his bed, next to his elliptical machine. Yet the thieves, miraculously, only made off with a single backpack that contained some $30,000 in watches and cash.

The robbery, by Farrer’s standards, turned out to be good for business. The guy who’d just gotten valuable press for renting the city’s priciest penthouse was now on local TV, sporting a Timepiece Gentleman hat as he recounted the dramatic break-in. The intruders were never caught. Looking back, Guilliams wonders whether the whole thing was yet another publicity stunt, fueled by Farrer’s bottomless need for attention. “He wanted to be seen out here so bad,” she said.

The robbery turned out to be the least of the Timepiece Gentlemen’s problems. Not long after the incident, Farrer tried to unload his $300,000 Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, a dazzling white-gold chronograph frosted with a purple dial. Farrer had listed it for $330,000, counting on making his usual 10% profit on the sale. But now, he discovered, he couldn’t break even. He ended up taking a $100,000 hit on it instead. “That’s when I realized we’re in deep shit,” he recalled.

By April 2022, the luxury-watch bubble — inflated by the bizarre combination of COVID and crypto — suddenly burst. “It had to pop sometime,” Farrer said. “I didn’t think it would be then.” Farrer had been running a consignment business, reselling watches for clients and taking a commission of 5%. But with the market plunging by 20%, Farrer began to panic. The day his probation ended on his DUI charge, he tossed away his ankle monitor and began to drink again.

Guilliams had never seen the person she calls “Drunk Anthony,” and the monster was “absolutely obnoxious,” she said. “He gets this look and you can just tell tonight’s going be a bad night.” The more vodkas he downed, the more money he blew on sports cars, Vegas gambling, and high-priced sex workers. “I would start drinking and start spending and spending and spending,” he said. And he was funding it, he admits, in a way that sounds awfully close to the definition of a Ponzi scheme. “My flaw was I was double-dipping,” he told me. “Rather than me pay you back immediately, I would take that money and go buy more inventory and then try to sell that inventory really quick so I could actually make some money and then pay you out.” In other words, he’d sell your watch for you — but good luck getting your money back anytime soon.

As Farrer continued to post his sushi-loving, Lamborghini-driving videos online, the clients he was stiffing began to boil over. Wesley Stokes, who owned a plumbing company in South Carolina, had $2 million worth of watches on consignment with Farrer when the payments suddenly stopped. “He was going to sell them and he was going to keep a little commission in the end,” Stokes said, but instead “he pretty much sold a lot of them and never paid me.” Stokes sent an armored car to Farrer’s office to get the cash, but came away empty-handed. “He still owes me a million,” Stokes told me.

Bob Schober, who owns a roofing company in Scottsdale, Arizona, had been a loyal Timepiece Gentleman customer since seeing Farrer sell Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden a Richard Mille watch. “I thought this dude was legit completely,” Schober recalled. “You couldn’t have convinced me otherwise in the beginning.” But after the robbery, the market crash, and Farrer’s incessant posturing on social media, Schober grew suspicious about the consignments the Timepiece Gentleman was holding for him. “He’s got 200 grand worth of my watches,” Schober said, “and I’m hearing that he is not paying people money that he owes.”

Last July, after Schober realized his watches were no longer listed on the TPG site, he called Farrer to confront him. Farrer, who had recently stayed at Schober’s home after delivering a watch, considered him a friend. So he drunkenly confessed.

“I’m going to just tell everyone straight up I’m $5 million in debt,” he told Schober over the phone. “I’ve been a complete fucking degenerate. I got a little taste of success and the stars, and I thought that would never end. For the last few years that’s how I’ve lived my life — that it would never end, that I was way too good at what I did. I was way too famous, way too popular. I was the leader of all this in the industry — and I let that all kind of tank me.” He also claimed was “too smart” to get robbed, which fueled Schober’s suspicions that the home break-in had been staged.

But this time, whatever relief Farrer felt from coming clean didn’t last long. Schober had been secretly recording the call, and he posted all 18 minutes of it on TikTok, along with a warning to anyone else who did business with the Timepiece Gentleman. Then he went to the police.

Rather than responding with contrition and offering to make things right, Farrer felt betrayed by Schober. “The whole reason I told him was because I was so stressed about it,” he told me. “It was eating at me alive to the point I was drinking every night, not working out, eating like shit, not liking who I was becoming. I saw it as a dark hole. And I wanted someone I could tell it to for once, so I’m not holding it inside anymore, but also give me advice.” When he speed-dialed Schober, though, he discovered his number had been blocked.

Ever since Farrer was a young foster kid in Texas, he’d been on the run: from his father, from the law, and mostly from himself. The few times the truth about his life had come out, he had felt unburdened, only to fuck everything up again. Last August, he decided to come as clean as whatever version of himself he had in his head would allow. Sitting in front of his sleek white kitchen cabinets, an empty paper towel roll in a stand, Farrer taped what he captioned his “Rock Bottom” video for YouTube. For 14 minutes he described his addictions, his $5 million debt, his lies. All he ever wanted, he said, was to be popular like those he envied on TV and the internet, and that had led to his all-consuming obsession with what he called “this flex lifestyle.”

“I didn’t want people thinking I was a failure,” he said, choking back tears. “I didn’t want people thinking I was a fraud, a fake. I’ve gotten accustomed to this lifestyle — and getting that type of attention, it ruined me.”

The night before the FBI arrested him in his storage locker, Farrer told me he wasn’t guilty of anything more than being in debt. “It’s not a Ponzi scheme,” he insisted as we headed outside. “A Ponzi scheme is when you knowingly dupe Peter to pay Paul. I never did that.”

The FBI disagreed. After interviewing 20 of Farrer’s clients, including Schober and Stokes, federal agents arrested him on suspicion of wire and mail fraud — charges that could send him to federal prison for up to 20 years. He is currently being held, without bail, in a federal jail in downtown Los Angeles, the city he came to conquer. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges; his trial is scheduled for October 22.

On the night before he was busted, as we walked past Gold’s Gym, Farrer spoke optimistically about paying his customers back — starting with selling his Ducati, which was parked nearby. When I asked how confident he felt about making good on the $5 million, he didn’t hesitate. “Two hundred percent,” he said. “The only way I’m not going to do it is if I die. Even if I go to prison, I’ll get out, and I’ll start where I left off.”

Down along the Venice Boardwalk, we passed other homeless people scouting spots for the evening. Farrer had packed a knife, just in case. He hoped to spend the night in a nearby lifeguard stand. “I love being by the water,” he said, gazing over the darkened beach. “It’s a serenity like nothing else.” As we watched the waves on his last night as a free man, he told me he had already storyboarded his next YouTube series: his comeback. “If you’re used to watching this guy who used to drive a Ferrari or a Lambo or a G-Wagen, and ate at nice restaurants and lived in the best places, but now he’s sleeping in the dirt,” he said, “it’s entertainment.”