The Diamond Age 2.0: De Beers opens Silicon Valley VC arm

Gallium Nitride-on-diamond wafer technology

Can diamonds be a geek’s best friend? De Beers, the global diamond conglomerate, certainly thinks so. Element Six, a De Beers subsidiary focused on manufacturing synthetic diamonds, has opened a new venture capital office in Silicon Valley.

The fund aims to invest in technology companies of all sizes that use synthetic diamond, a mineral that’s chemically identical to natural diamonds but produced in a lab rather than by the traditional geologic process. Diamond is best known for its hardness, but its other properties, such as high thermal conductivity and high radiation resistance, make it useful in applications from semiconductor manufacturing equipment to clean tech.

Element Six Ventures Group has actually been active since 2006, but the decision to open an outpost in the San Francisco Bay Area is an important step for the firm, managing director Susie Wheeler said in an interview last week. “Part of our goal in being here in Silicon Valley is to go out and really proselytize diamonds to the technology companies based here,” she said.

Element Six Ventures has already invested “tens of millions” of dollars in its seven-company portfolio. One of Element Six’s notable investments is in Diamond Detectors, a U.K.-based firm that manufactures the synthetic-diamond-radiation detectors used on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Wheeler didn’t provide specific details on how much Element Six is looking to spend on investing in Silicon Valley companies; she said the firm’s deep-pocketed parent company De Beers hasn’t set distinct limits in place.

The new VC firm is only the beginning, Wheeler said. In the months ahead, Element Six is also planning to build a production site in Silicon Valley for the manufacturing of synthetic diamonds. But that doesn’t mean more glitz is on the way to add fuel to all that tech bubble talk going around; Element Six makes no gems, only diamond material for technological and industrial use.