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In the states it is most often referred to as --fine silver--.
At 98 or 99 percent it is considered about as pure as one can get.
Here in Egypt we have 900 silver and up (hallmarked) and thats the most common grade of silver we have here (this applies to gold too, we dont have 9 karat or 14 karat gold here. In silver jewelry you might find less grade depending on the design.
This is mostly because its elaborate and demands specific grades to be more managable and workable as most of them are hand made.
The are many reasons for using it over sterling silver. Most of the imports currently being mis-labeled as hill tribe silver are done in Ag .980, The smiths I've met over there prefer it because it is softer and easier to stamp and forge than sterling.
It melts at a higher temp and so folks over there do not like it for casting however.
Rainwater can be confusing, but just remember that the marks always follow the names and info in that book. You can find this info on page 38 of Maryanne Dolan's Collecting Rhinestones & Colored Jewelry, 3rd edition, where the info is UNDER the mark.The following list is compiled from emails of Silver Forum subscribers: The list consists of designers and maker's marks that have been difficult to find in reference materials so far.The left box of each row is for the mark, either a photograph or text indicating the name found on the piece.of jewelry, the right box describes the "mystery piece" or designer.When information is found it will appear with credit given to the person who provided it. Marks were introduced by each country at different times, and the rules and regulations involved can be very complex. these standards all appear around the turn of the century at various time according to the descretion of the manufacturer.