After ages of controlling the international market for natural diamonds, the diamond cartel De Beers is starting to spread its tentacles into Silicon Valley, where the hardest form of carbon is prized for much more than glitter. De Beers is investing heavily in convincing IT pros that lab-grown diamonds — not long ago, the bane of diamond dealers’ existence — are the semiconductor substrate of the future.

During the past several years, a few firms have honed the process of manufacturing synthetic diamonds, using anvil cells to supplant billions of years of crustal compression and building diamond crystals atom-by-atom using chemical vapor deposition. These gemstones appear flawless and are chemically identical to the roughs mined from Africa and other places.

Along with their hardness, diamonds are prized for their high thermal conductivity — a diamond-based processor could run at much higher speeds than a silicon one, potentially enabling much more powerful computers. They can also withstand prodigious amounts of radiation, so they are useful for detecting radiation in things like particle accelerators. So De Beers would like to get in on the game, reports Technology Review.

Element Six (like carbon, get it?) is a De Beers subsidiary that just opened a San Francisco Bay-area office, investing venture capital in seven companies. “Part of our goal in being here in Silicon Valley is to go out and really proselytize diamonds to the technology companies based here,” said the company’s managing director, Susie Wheeler, in an interview with GigaOM.

Some of these investments have already yielded interesting technology — Element Six invested in a firm called Diamond Detectors, which makes the Large Hadron Collider’s radiation detectors. Much more could be to come, given that De Beers has apparently placed no limits on the depths of its planned investments.

[Technology Review, GigaOM]