July 13, 2024

It started when I was browsing hashtags on Instagram. I would visit #Rolex or #AudemarsPiguet and all these fake watches would pop up, people just fronting it like it was the real deal, with a lot of added hashtags like #Millionaire and #Baller. I just thought that was kinda funny to feel the need to get fake recognition like that.”

So went the genesis of an Instagram sensation, with 311,000 followers and counting, started by a European man in his 30s who is known online only as @fakewatchbusta.

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Fakewatchbusta refers to himself as a “Horological Batman,” a vigilante of sorts sifting through tags and Instagram posts, shaming anyone audacious enough to brag about their questionable timepieces. When he started in 2013 under the account @fakewatchbuster, he would out just about anyone he thought was repping a fake, using his considerable knowledge of watches he had gained from online communities like WatchUSeek and Rolex Forums. “I got the first 500 or so followers within a few hours,” he says. After an interview with Hodinkee that number rocketed to 5,000. Then, FWB publicly shamed NBA star Carmelo Anthony for his purportedly fake Panerai; he says lawyers got involved, and his account was promptly banned.

After taking a break, FWB resurfaced on Instagram under his new account @fakewatchbusta, with a specialty in calling out fakes worn by celebrities, increasing his notoriety. FWB has since called out the supposed fake watches of such high-profile figures as Rick Ross, Soulja Boy (whose quartz Audemars Piguet has been stuck at 10:25 since the battery wore out in 2014, according to FWB) and Young Thug. The latter instance provoked a strongly worded response from Jeffrey Lamar Williams (stage name, Young Thug), who wrote, “Y’all need to call @ElliotAvianne. This bitch cost me 110k,” in reference to his Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore.

Young Thug’s jeweler Elliot Avianne also denies the claim but on his account FWB justified his verdict thusly: “The biggest give away here is the use of a 7750 Valjoux movement in the fake which makes for some spacing and depth problems around the date window. The in-house movement from AP is modular which makes the date really deep and because of the custom size of the movement it gets that too close spacing towards the Tachymetre.”

Rapper Young Thug's Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Michael Schumacher Platinum, busted.

Rapper Young Thug’s Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore Michael Schumacher Platinum, busted.

FWB’s handiwork has been supported by a number of people. He has received kind words from Audemars Piguet over Instagram, and has even heard a shoutout from Jean-Claude Biver, former CEO of Hublot and current CEO of TAG Heuer in the Swiss press. FWB also has his own group of collectors and watch experts he often consults for second opinions on more difficult cases, but some are audacious enough to be easily figured out. “You have your Yacht-Master III’s ([Rolex] has only made a YMI and a YMII) and your DateJusts without a date and you have those hideous watches pretending to be tourbillon watches that just show an open balance wheel,” he said.

FWB said a lot of the fakes he spots are likely the work of shady jewelers, though the buyers aren’t necessarily being duped. “I think a lot of people are buying it from jewelers, but they know it’s fake,” he said. “Most rappers are mostly interested if the diamonds are real and couldn’t give a fuck about the watch beneath them. If they can save $20k on the watch I think some of them would be into that and therefore some of the jewelers cater that option.”

As such, FWB has received several cease-and-desist letters from lawyers representing jewelers he’s exposed, though those have more or less stopped this past year as the account has grown in popularity.

“I think exposed celebrities are starting to understand a bit of the humorous intentions behind the accounts,” he said. “Most people I have busted are pretty calm after a few hours and some of them are even following my account at this point.” The threat of lawsuits inspired FWB to keep his identity hidden, though he admits it’s also “part of the whole mystique with the account.”

As for who the masked man really is — account followers and the accused thought he was jeweler Ben Baller, which FWB denies. He prefers to remain just another massive watch nerd, and that’s it. He also has a considerable collection of his own. “I have a collection that is constantly changing but I have a love for Rolex, Grand Seiko and Tudor,” he said. FWB runs a second Instagram account detailing his own extensive personal collection.

FWB has been offered the opportunity to post paid shout-outs, but he has declined them, with no plans to monetize @fakewatchbusta. For him, the act is pure entertainment, especially considering his new immortalization in hip-hop culture: his account has been name-dropped in songs from artists like Rick Ross, Rich the Kid, Kid Ink and Troy Ave. Atlanta trio Migos even wrote an entire song about him, which FWB said is “one of the coolest things that has happened to the account.”

Watch-Buying Tips From @fakewatchbusta

Or, How Not to Get Ripped Off

1 Do your homework. If you want the kind of incredible knowledge FWB has, do as he did and get involved with online communities. “The knowledge you can pick up at the forums is amazing,” he said. “They go very deep into the movements and history behind the brands and models.” He also reads general watch blogs and uses the Watchville app. If you’re looking into a specific model, see if there is a dedicated site for it; he says this was the case with the 1680 Red Submariner, which has not one but two dedicated sites with detailed info.

2 “Buy the seller, not the watch.” This is FWB’s biggest rule. If it means paying a little more for the sake of authenticity, it is worth it. FWB also notes that there are plenty of reputable dealers who specialize in high-end timepieces that still offer considerable discounts, like DavidSW.

3 Make nice with a dealer. By frequenting and building a personal relationship with workers at an authorized dealer (not a brand-specific boutique), FWB suggests you’ll “come a long way in service situations and warranty situations as a direct customer, compared to coming into the store with warranty papers bought in someone else’s name.” And, by going to an authorized dealer rather than a boutique, you have the opportunity to cross-shop if you’re between two (or more) different models from different watch brands.

4 Go to forums for secondhand. “Buying from reputable sellers on the forums is basically safe,” he says. “Reputation is everything in this game and there are several sellers out there that I would trust the same way I would trust an authorized dealer.” He also suggest using WatchRecon to scrub through various forum listings for secondhand pieces.