Abstract In this paper, we propose a new construction for the Mexican hat wavelets on shapes with applications to partial shape matching. Our approach takes its main inspiration from the well-established methodology of diffusion wavelets. This novel construction allows us to rapidly compute a multi-scale family of Mexican hat wavelet functions, by approximating the derivative of the heat kernel. We demonstrate that this leads to a family of functions that inherit many attractive properties of the heat kernel (e.g. local support, ability to recover isometries from a single point, efficient computation). Due to its natural ability to encode high-frequency details on a shape, the proposed method reconstructs and transfers -functions more accurately than the Laplace-Beltrami eigenfunction basis and other related bases. Finally, we apply our method to the challenging problems of partial and large-scale shape matching. An extensive comparison to the state-of-the-art shows that it is comparable in performance, while both simpler and much faster than competing approaches.